For the last decade-plus, this question has not even been worth asking, as Kevin Garnett has been the franchise ever since he was drafted No. 5 overall in 1995. Heck, even after KG was traded to the Boston Celtics in 2007, he still remained the face of the Wolves, however sad that is.
But that has all changed now that Kevin Love has established himself as a true NBA superstar.
The UCLA grad showed up to camp this season having dropped over 25 pounds and added to his offensive arsenal an improved 3-point shot, more polished post moves and seemingly, the mindset of a true leader who is ready to accept the role as Minnesota’s second-ever superstar.
So, who is the greatest Timberwolf of all time?
Is is Garnett, who in his prime, was one of the three best players of his era and truly put Minnesota on the map for many NBA fans? Or Love, who is putting up truly historic numbers and quickly establishing himself as a go-to player in the clutch?
This question has been a hot topic on many of the Wolves’ internet message boards lately.
For many, it is downright blasphemous to suggest that Love has overtaken KG. Afterall, Garnett is a future hall-of-famer, while Love is in the middle of his first real season of superstardom.
But there are plenty of arguments for Love being made by Wolves fans.
First, many pro-Love(rs) contend that Garnett, for all of his all-around greatness, was never a true ‘alpha dog’ in that he never seemed fully comfortable in the 4th quarter asserting himself as the team’s go-to option, while Love on the other hand, has already single-handedly plucked clutch victories from the jaws of defeat on numerous occasions just this season, most notably the buzzer beating trey in LA and the clinching free throws against Philly at home a few weeks back.
Those from the Love camp also point to the stats and head-to-head attributes. By the numbers, Love is the better scorer, rebounder, 3-point shooter, free throw shooter and clutch performer. And while no one is saying Garnett was not great in all of those areas, the league has not seen a player with the unique skill set of Love in many, many years, if ever.
The double-double record, the 30-30 game, and his recent string of dominating performances against Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge (twice this week) have all helped him establish himself as the best T’Wolf ever in the eyes of many. Love is arguably the best power forward in the NBA right now, while Garnett was always a small notch behind the likes of Karl Malone and Tim Duncan during his career.
For one, Duncan and Malone are all-time greats, and their greatness should in no way detract from KG’s career.
Garnett, like Love, also put up pretty remarkable numbers in his own right in his prime for the Wolves. From 1999-2007, Garnett averaged a ridiculous 22 ppg/13 rpg/5 apg. He also led the Wolves to playoff appearances in eight of his first nine seasons in the league.
Garnett was also an All-NBA defender for the majority of his career, an attribute that is so often overlooked nowadays, but has to be considered in this argument. Love has improved in this area and is no longer a glaring liability on the defensive end, but he still is no where near prime-KG’s level.
KG backers are also quick to point out that he was much better at making his teammates better than Love is, and not just by virtue of his assist totals. Garnett’s intensity, fire, exuberance and tenacity was said to rub off on his teammates, which is probably why he was able to lead such legendary ballers as Will Avery, Marc Jackson, Felipe Lopez and Robert Pack to the playoffs.
And perhaps even more impressive than the the KG-led Wolves’ run to the Western Conference Finals in 2004, was the 2006-2007 season (his last with Minnesota), during which he led this roster to more than 30 wins, nearly double that of Love’s Wolves during the 2010-2011 season.
In the end, it’s hard to make this comparison because Garnett is now in his 17th year in the league and Love is still only 23 years old and in his fourth NBA season.
But you can count me in the Garnett camp. I believe that KG is undoubtedly still the greatest T’Wolf of all time… for now.
Perhaps it’s because I’m old enough to clearly remember watching Garnett every game during his glory years with the Wolves. Anyone who watched Game 7 against the Kings in the playoffs in ’04 will find it hard to consider KG the second best Wolf.
But the real reason for my alligence to KG in this debate? Wins.
Look at KG’s first three seasons in the league: 111 wins, compared to just 56 for Love. Now, obviously, Love is just now emerging and had other circumstances working against him early in his career, but so did Garnett. And while Garnett had his struggles in the playoffs and never won a ring in Minnesota, I blame that more on the front office for failing to get him a Rubio-like talent to play alongside after Stephon Marbury left (Terrell Brandon, Mike James and Randy Foye don’t count).
Garnett also revolutionized the power forward position. No longer are NBA 4’s just big hulking, shorter centers ala Malone and Duncan. Garnett’s perimeter game and ball handling made him a matchup nightmare and paved the way for the likes of Aldridge, Dirk and Kevin Durant.
I think Love’s all around game has him trending towards that GOAT level, and he may very well end his career as the unquestioned best player in franchise history, but he’s not there yet. In arguments like this, longevity does play a role.
The good news for Wolves’ fans is that we got to witness the greatness that was Kevin Garnett. We got to watch him evolve from ‘Da Kid,’ the skinny, wide-eyed kid out of high school into ‘The Big Ticket,’ one of the greatest all-around players to ever lace them up.
And if we’re lucky, we will get to see that same maturation and dominance from Kevin Love for years to come.
(Images credited to AP Photos)