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Ball Don't Lie

Kevin Love’s double-double streak is dead. Long live the streak

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Kevin Love's streak of 53 straight double-doubles ended on Sunday night, as his Minnesota Timberwolves fell to the lowly Golden State Warriors. Love, who led the NBA in rebounding at 15.7 per game (alongside his 20.7 points per game average) managed "just" 12 caroms and six points in the loss. Afterwards, Love was eager for the fresh start.

From the AP:

"Now I can start focusing on playing my game," said Love after being held to six points and 12 rebounds in the Timberwolves' 100-77 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday. "I thought I was doing it for myself but a lot of it was for the fans and everybody watching. I feel a big weight off my shoulders."

While you can quibble with the idea that a player averaging nearly 21 and 16 per contest can now focus on playing his game, understand that it can't be easy to take in embarrassing near-nightly standing ovations from home fans after securing a double-double, while the scoreboard reads 72-58 in the other team's favor. Through no fault of his own, Love's Timberwolves are a mess, and I don't doubt the guy for a second as the All-Star embraces relative anonymity.

What I have to quibble with is the media's reaction to his history-making turn. No, not the media that pointed out that the mark of 53 was the highest since the merger that joined the ABA and NBA in 1976, but the media that reacted to that qualification.

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I know how it comes off. It's kind of lame to only go back to 1976 while dealing with a league that has been around since 1946. And I know it trumpets up Love's accomplishments, because the work of Bill Russell and (especially) Wilt Chamberlain can't be included. Those reactions are well-intentioned, because Love's run turned into an NBA-styled statistical anomaly. Only brought to attention because they decided the terms of engagement, while allowing for Love to take advantage of the historical competition that was left over. In this case, Moses Malone.

And … and I can't fault the NBA for it.

Because the current NBA is closer to the NBA that we saw during Moses Malone's double-double fest in 1982-83 than Moses' NBA was closer to the NBA from 1972. And the difference between 1962 and 1982 is too vast to even comprehend. The game has changed so much from its infancy, and that's not even getting into the disparate levels of competition.

Wilt Chamberlain was an ungodly talent that would have even dominated the era that Love plays in. But in the early 1960s? He had it all at his feet. Teams regularly chalked up 25 or 30 more possessions per game than we see now, while shooting percentages averaged out in the low 40s. Simply put, there were more rebounds to be had because of all the misses (as a generation still figured this game out), and there were more opportunities to take in these misses with the heightened pace.

Toss in Wilt's stature as a modern-era player amongst early-1960s competition, and his team's propensity for playing him 48 minutes per game (quite literally), and you have all the makings of a double-double machine. Comparing recent marks to stats of that era, especially Chamberlain's statistics, is an abject exercise in futility. No reasonable NBA analyst should even try.

And once you toss in the dilution of the NBA due to the ABA's growing prominence in the early 1970s, you have yet another reason to only make this mark post-Bicentennial worthy.

Because the ABA had game, though it didn't exactly have records. The pace was nearly as up-tempo as in Wilt's time, but the talent disparity from the top of the heap to the bottom of the pile was too great a gulf to take seriously. Worse, the NBA holds no recognition of ABA stats as equal to the NBA's, for reasons I can get behind, even though it's entirely possible that, I don't know, Bob Netolicky managed a 10-and-12 average for 61 games back in 1971.

Add all that to the mix, and I find it completely reasonable that the NBA decided to push the "post-merger" ideal on all who reported.

What still strikes me as lame is the idea of a double-double. That's not why Kevin Love is brilliant. That's just an easy cut off.

Dale Davis got double-doubles. So does Jose Calderon. Jamie Feick had a few of them, back in 1999-00, and Brendan Haywood managed a good chunk of them during his time in Washington. All you need is 10 of one thing, and 10 of another.

Kevin Love doesn't do that. The guy averages nearly 21 and 16, and while you can bring up pace and missed shots on Minnesota's side of the court (though those are mitigated by the defensive rebounds Love doesn't get when he and his teammates poorly defend and the shots go in), what does that take Love down to? 19 and 14?

The guy is amazing, full stop. And in a context where we constantly bring up the "where would the Bulls be without Derrick Rose?" ideal, well, where would the Timberwolves be? Negative 23 wins?

Don't let a skeevy set of time qualifications and the dodginess of Love's teammates bring you down. Though he's not on the level of the MVP candidates, this guy does as much to help his team win games as any other All-Star. It's a mix of passion and study that is rare in circles that don't include members of the NBA's defending champions, and he's been burdened with the needless stigma that inevitably comes with having a poor supporting cast. As if it doesn't count.

Well, Kevin Love counts. Don't remember the streak, but remember this player.

And consider the era.

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