Free Kevin Love! Free Kevin Love! That’s the rallying cry of the basketball internets, intent on releasing Kevin Love from the unjust confinement inflicted upon him by the clueless leaders of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Coach Kurt Rambis and GM David Kahn. Love’s recent 30-30 game was just further proof that given minutes, great things would happen – he was already leading the league in rebound rate and now even overall rebounds per game for those less statistically advanced. What could possibly cause Rambis to shackle this obviously brilliant virtuoso to the bench for such great periods for such a poor team? Until the last few games, Love was averaging less than 30 minutes a night for a 3-win team – a travesty, plain and simple.
Except I’m not convinced. See, I watched Kevin Love match up against Boris Diaw and Tyrus Thomas the other night in Charlotte – and I noticed something: He can’t defend. Even against the floor bound Boris, Kevin struggled to slow him from scoring – and Tyrus Thomas? Not a fair matchup at this stage – not until Love trims up a bit, as he lacks the foot speed and explosiveness to contest against a high-riser like T-Time. What my numbers say Kevin surrendered: 16 points in 28 minutes to those two Bobcats, on 7 of 10 from the floor. Not good – the kind of thing that may convince a coach to dole out minutes to a player a bit more selectively, perhaps?
It’s not that I have anything against Kevin Love – I think he has a lot of potential, I like the way he plays, his focus on rebounding and ability to throw the outlet pass. But I also remember how +/- indicated early in Kevin Durant’s career that his team struggled with him on the court, at both ends of the court, despite his seeming offensive brilliance. Just as Durant’s scoring ability overshadowed some faults in his game (defense, offensive continuity – both of which are streets ahead now), Love’s prolific rebounding seems to be preventing people from noticing that maybe his coach is not just being a curmudgeon, that is a valid and reasonable explanation for it. I didn’t have to look far in my numbers to see it.
With Kevin Love on the floor this year, the Minnesota Timberwolves allow a defensive efficiency of 111.5 – but that number drops to 103.1 with him on the pine. I can hear the rebuttals: “He plays against the starters”, “his teammates are not good”, “Darko!”, and “Defense is a team effort”. Fair enough – but it is a least a reason for pause, yes?
From team defense to personal, I already mentioned his defensive numbers against the Bobcats – Opponent Stats for Kevin Love – that link will take you to his numbers for the season. Spoiler: They’re bad. Knowing that the Wolves are a fast team, focus on the pace independent stats – PER, per 100 possessions, and rates. Notice a trend? They’re largely negative and in this case, that’s a bad thing. Opponents are putting up a PER of 18.56 against Love while scoring 25.9 points per 100 team possessions on a TS% of 58.5 – based on their averages the rest of the season, we would expect 16.71, 21.7, and 56.0%. Starting to wonder if Rambis is seeing similar issues and that is the reason Love is not getting the 35 or 40 minutes a night the fans want to see?
Last number: 96th. Love’s surrendering of an extra +4.2 points per 100 team possessions to his man is 96th out of 107 big men who have played over 100 minutes this season. Some of the defensive luminaries behind him? Amare Stoudemire, Charlotte’s own Nazr Mohammed, and Charlie Villanueva. That’s my way of saying “These numbers must be decent – those guys can’t guard a chair”. At the other end of the spectrum: Andrew Bogut leads big men, knocking 8.2 points off his man’s scoring average so far this year (really – go back and look at Milwaukee’s box scores: Emeka Okafor took a donut opening night, and Bogut’s starting center counterpart did not best 3 points in the Bucks’ first 4 games). When I asked Jeremy Schmidt of BucksketBall.com what he thought about the numbers flattering of Bogut, he was more than happy to reply:
For the past two years us folks in Milwaukee have known only Dwight Howard is on Bogut’s level defensively. They filter everything to him and he defends one on one very well too. Look at how good his block and charge numbers were last season too. He’s a monster; the reason Milwaukee is #2 defensively.
Jeremy Schmidt of BucksketBall.com
In conclusion – I don’t think Rambis is crazy, but I also think Kevin Love is going to be very good someday, he’s just not there yet. And check out my stats pages – they provide some interesting information across the league.