Team’s best passer: check.
Team’s best shooter: check.
Team’s best defender: check.
Team’s best rebounder: check.
Sounds like a description for former Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett doesn’t it? Well actually it’s an accurate list of skills held by current Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love. You can debate me (maybe) on him being the best defender on the team but even if it’s a tie, my argument works (i.e. your argument for anyone else on the team even for say Corey Brewer is just as strong as mine is for Love).
The point: Kevin Love is Mr. Untouchable when it comes to this young team of players. When David Kahn gets calls with possible trade offers and they ask for Love, he needs to hang up right away without thinking twice. Put a gun to my head on who I would rather keep between Love and Al Jefferson (or Jonny Flynn or Ramon Sessions) and I would quickly tell you it’s Love I want to see retire a Timberwolf after a long, long career here.
Don’t believe me that Kevin Love is the best and most important player on this team? Let’s take a look at the numbers first.
Rebounding: Yes folks take a look at the list on the link to HoopData’s defensive and rebounding page. Kevin Love is the best rebounder in the league right now, just 13 games into his sophomore year. When he’s on the court 1 in 5 missed shots end up in his hands, more than double the league average. You knew he was good but did you know he was this good?
Defense: As he is third in the league in defensive rebounding rate, Love is also the Wolves best defender. He rarely is out of position and although he doesn’t block many shots, he is the Wolves best big man at defending the pick and roll out on the perimeter which is an underrated skill in the league these days.
Points Per Shot: Some of you faithful HTW readers (what are there like 2-3 of you?) will remember we looked at this newer advanced statistic this past summer in regards to a simplistic way in building a championship caliber team. The gist of it was this: Class A scorer’s in the NBA shoot 12+ fg’s a game at a rate of 1.3 points per shot or higher. Class B’s shoot 12+ fg’s at a rate of 1.2 pps or higher. A championship caliber team either has two Class A’s (ex: Shaq/Kobe) with specialists around them or a Class A and two Class B’s. (ex: Duncan/Ginobli/Parker). I’ll spare you having to look at the Wolves awful stats right now, but the good news is Kevin Love is currently taking 11.1 shots per game with a 1.32 rat of pps. In fact over the last 6 games Love is averaging 12 fga per game at a rate of 1.375 PPS. Yes folks we have ourselves a Class A scorer on the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves. Also to note over those last six games is the Wolves record: a very respectable 3-3.
PER, Win Score (Adjusted Win Scores) and +/- : A lot has been made out of all three of these newer advanced statistics, each of them with their own proponent/genius mathematician arguing for their case: John Hollinger of ESPN for PER, David Berri for Win Score (Dan Rosenbaum for Adjusted Win Score), and Wayne Winston for +/-. Rather than hash out which one is best and why (I wouldn’t even know where to begin anyway) let’s just point to the facts that we care about: All three (four) of them point to Kevin Love being the Wolves best player and one of the best power forwards in the league right now.
Here’s how Love stands (as of 12/27) compared to the rest of the league right now:
- PER: 22.70, 17th Overall for 25+ min players, 7th for PF’s behind Duncan, Dirk, Bosh, Landry, Josh Smith, and Gasol.
- Win Score and Adjusted Win Score:
- WS 14.13, good for 3rd best in the league behind only Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.
- AWS 8.58, good for 9th in league behind only this nice little group of stars: Paul, Lebron, Duncan, Gasol, Dirk, Bosh, Kobe, Nash and ahead of Anthony, Howard, Wade, and Durant. Not to shabby I’d say.
- Adjusted +/- (Love isn’t listed simply for not having enough minutes yet. His +/- is on the MIN team page here.): +13.75, good for 13th in the league and the 5th best PF behind Dirk, Varejao, Josh Smith, and Gasol.
- I also contacted the esteemed advanced statistician and author of Mathletics, Mr. Wayne Winston who keeps his own adjusted +/- stats and who Henry has interviewed on TrueHoop with Part I here, follow-up here, Part II here, Part III here, and Part IV here. He had this to say on Kevin Love so far when I asked if his numbers said the same thing, namely that Kevin Love is the best player so far for the Wolves:
I agree Love has been best [on the Timberwolves] so far. His Adjusted +/- is +14.3. Also the following stat puts him in perspective. When Love is in and Hollins is out (he plays poorly with Hollins) the Wolves are 5.26 points better than average. The rest of season the Wolves are 14 points worse than average. If he would have played enough minutes this season the +14.3 would put him as 14th in the league.
Now if all of that isn’t convincing enough (admit it though, you are thoroughly convinced) Love also passes the eye test with flying colors.
Here was one of my tweets from Saturday night’s game:
Great find by Love of Sessions underneath for layup. Then Love lays it in next pos. No question the #Twolves should be posting Love up more.
Kevin Love is the Timberwolf I trust most with the ball in his hands and if I were Coach Rambis I would be upset on any trip down the floor where he didn’t touch the ball. He has range out to the 3 point line now (10-19 on the season), he is the best passer on the team and is as good a player in the league as any at letting plays develop and letting guys get open before he finds them with a crisp and precise pass. I can’t remember the last time I saw him make the wrong play. Not to mention his outlet passes are the direct cause of 2-3 extra fastbreaks a game for the Wolves. The only reason he isn’t averaging 5 assists right now is that most of the outlets are hockey assists and he isn’t getting enough touches in the offense, yet. All of this and I haven’t even mentioned his knack for getting his big mitts on the ball after a miss better than any player in the league.
All of this is reflected in the Wolves improved play. Faithful Wolves fans who suffered through and watched the team’s 2-16 start know that this is entirely different team with Love in the lineup that has gone 5-8 since his return. Certainly a lot of the turnaround can be credited with the Wolves finally getting it on offense in running the triangle but Love’s presence in the triangle can’t be ignored either. He opens things up with his deft passing and stretch 4 range, as well as the 4+ extra shots he adds to the team with his offensive rebounding. As Winston pointed out when Love is on the court he makes the Wolves +5 better than average and while he is out they drop to -14 below average. Bottom line: not only is he the Wolves best player but he makes everyone around him better too.
Before the season started a lot of people questioned whether Love and Jefferson could effectively play together. Those with doubts started to concoct trades for Mr. Kahn to ship Love out and keep Jefferson as the Wolves cornerstone of the future. It certainly looks so far like the two can succeed together and after only 13 games into his sophomore season, it’s clear that Love is really the cornerstone of this young Wolves team and Mr. Untouchable in any future trade talks.