I understand that no one cares about stories related to fantasy sports. It’s like looking at photos: if you aren’t in them, who cares? I get it—they’re boring, and no one will give a rip if you go on-and-on about how frustrating it is that you wasted your first overall pick on an Amar’e Stoudemire that is currently averaging 5 turnovers a game (not that I did this or anything). Anyway, given that slightly disturbing and drawn-out comparison, I’d like you to hear me out on a quick fantasy story.
You see, the past two years I was dumb enough to draft Kevin Love on to my fantasy basketball team, and every night I’d watch in frustration as he’d inexplicably hit the bench for quarters at a time. It would invariably happen without clear reason—in close games, in blowouts, on road trips, during home stands, on the second night of back-to-backs—he would sit. Didn’t matter if he hadn’t committed a foul yet or was having his way on the offensive end; he’d always get the bench. Needless to say, my monitor was cussed out a lot.
My frustration seems to finally have found company, as the rest of the NBA world is now up in arms, trying to figure this nuttiness out. Why is he seeing so few minutes? What’s wrong with Kevin Love? Let’s investigate.
We should begin with a look at his first two years in the league. Two years ago, in his rookie campaign, he averaged 11 points and 9 rebounds in just 25 minutes of work. Last year he put up a 14 point and 11 rebound line in just over 28 minutes a contest. And while both of these lines, despite his limited burn, are impressive in their own right, it’s even more astonishing once you realize that during a large portion of those seasons Love laced up next to the high-volume shooter Al Jefferson.
The spark-noted version: in around half a game, next to another sterling big man, on an absolutely terrible team, Kevin Love averaged a double-double. Crazy.
The reason Love excels is because he is a dynamic offensive player. Love can shoot the long ball well, and last year he made a third of his threes. This mark isn’t otherworldly, but you need to remember that given his limited minutes and the duties of being a big (fighting for position on the block, rebounding, and the like) prevent him from settling into a really good rhythm. Regardless, his ability to spread the floor and open up driving lanes with his range is incredibly valuable.
He’s also a fantastic passer. Love reminds me of Pau Gasol because he is so excellent at moving the rock around. The most impressive aspect of his passing is his outlet pass, a skill that shouldn’t be overlooked since a good outlet can ignite easy transition opportunities (especially beneficial for the T-Wolves, given the fact that they will likely have 15 point guards, give or take, on the court at any time). In the half-court set his passing is just as valuable. The Timberwolves run the triangle offense, a system that thrives off of a big man hitting cutters sneaking baseline. Love can do that.
However, the most impressive aspect of his offensive game, bar none, is his offensive rebounding ability. Last year, he averaged 3.8 offensive rebounds a game. This was good enough for second in the league behind Zach Randolph (4.1 offensive rebounds a game). But here’s the rub: Randolph played nearly 10 more minutes a game than Love. If we control for minutes played (we’ll use per 48 minutes), Love jumps off the page. Love’s offensive rebounding per 48 clip last year was 6.3. Randolph’s as a comparison: 5.2. Moreover, guys who we consider rebounding beasts—Dwight Howard (4.8 offensive rebounds per 48), Pau Gasol (4.9 per 48), and Joakim Noah (5.4 per 48)—get destroyed by Kevin Love on that end. Second chance opportunities are huge for any basketball team, and Love provided that in bunches for his Timberwolves when given the chance.
Ok, so his benching can’t be because of his offensive prowess. What about defense?
Perhaps the flaw in Love’s game is his lack of quickness. At UCLA, he garnered the nickname Kevin “Lovehandles,” because he was, um, just a bit round in the mid-section (I heard this from a buddy that graduated recently from UCLA). Having that donut around his waist means other power forwards can take him off the dribble and that his help defense might be a bit slow.
There’s also the whole attitude thing. Last year, Love publicly criticized Timberwolves management for his lack of playing time, earning a reputation for being moody. At the time, people knocked him for speaking out and undermining his coach. You settle these things behind closed doors, the critics said.
But can you really blame him? If I was the best player on an NBA team (if only…) and didn’t get enough minutes, I’d be pissed too.
Reports coming out of Minnesota indicate that this might still be the case; Love might have attitude problems, and Kurt Rambis, a coach who values team players and likes riding the hot hand (the one time a year that happens in Minnesota), won’t tolerate.
So that must be it, then. When the T’wolves need a defensive stop, Rambis goes to someone who can move his feet and won’t do it with attitude. This is where it fails to make sense, however. If you look at the T’wolves roster, outside of Love, defensive duties at the power forward and center positions fall to Anthony Tolliver, Darko Milicic, Michael Beasley, and Wayne Ellington. Uh… yeah. These guys may have better defensive skill sets, but none come close to Love’s rebounding and outside shooting touch.
The fault here, then, isn’t with Love. It falls squarely on the shoulders of head coach Kurt Rambis. Rambis is going deep, deep, deep into his bench, giving 9 guys on the team large minutes (including guys that do this). This tactic may work for deep teams like the Los Angeles Lakers or the Boston Celtics. But for the Timberwolves? Wayne Ellington shouldn’t be seeing 25 minutes a game, especially when a guy like Kevin Love is available.
The Timberwolves are one of the worst teams in the league (they rank at the bottom of nearly every metric), and benching your best player, a player that is exceptional offensively, because the head coach has some insane notion of how he wants to run a team is ridiculous. Proving points and blindly sticking to a system doesn’t win games. Having your best guys out on the court, working and going after it does.
What can we learn from all this? First, nothing is wrong with Kevin Love. Second, unless you are a masochist, don’t waste an early fantasy pick on the big guy.