Ball Don't Lie - NBA



In March of 2008, because I could not give a rip about the NCAAs, I watched Kevin Love(notes) play basketball for the first time. Obviously, it was a Saturday afternoon and I was at someone else's house.

I'd seen him on PtI, tossing in full-court heaves done in a chest-pass motion and disguised as outlet passes. They were pretty cool. I dug the fact that he was Mike Love's nephew, even though Mike Love is a bit of a prick, and warmed to the idea that there could be an outlet pass-lovin' bro entering a league that is mostly concerned with walking the ball up court.

Of course, I had my doubts. He seemed a little short and he seemed a little slow. And then I watched him play. And because I'm human and have a massive ego, that game only reinforced my doubts.

"Can't pull that off in the NBA," I yelled at the TV, as Love worked a few up-fakes and feints on his way toward a lay-in. Actually yelled it. "They say we allow traveling, but that's getting called," I said to my father after watching Love shuffle his feet before rolling in another lay-up. These were actual out-loud things, that really only a jerk says. An insecure jerk looking to pore over faults both perceived and real while ignoring what works.

Then the kid gets drafted by a team with an owner I don't respect all that much. And then the kid is traded to a team with an owner I don't respect all that much. And then I really, really get to see him play on a level that I understand. Full of prejudice, pretense and all that jerkitude that was referenced in the preceding paragraphs.

And the guy was awesome. Absolutely brilliant.

Love was, is, a phenomenal player. He seemed to be able to score all over the court, he had a nose for loose balls like few others and his passing was impeccable. His defense wasn't great or even good, and yet he still reminded me of the most versatile defender I've ever seen: Dennis Rodman. Not his defense, mind you, but Love's nose for boards, his ability to set improvised screens, his passing and derring-do? Reminded me of Rodman, like no other player I've seen since Dennis flamed out.

This isn't to say he's a Dennis Rodman-type. He isn't, not with that defense. But for someone to remind me of a player who may have had the strongest basketball IQ in league history, in his rookie year? Solid start.

And enough -- like, within his first month as a pro -- to force me to grow up, lose the prejudice and appreciate Love for what he consistently brings to the table. Could I have gone on for ages riffing on his faults, bringing up what he doesn't do expertly? Of course. Would that have been a fair representation of Kevin Love as a player? Of course not. And that's kind of my job, isn't it? To give you a fair representation of what I see in this league.

So why can't Kevin Love get a fair representation, by those that really matter?

Like, NBA coaches. Or even annoying-as-piss college coaches who slum as Team USA coaches just so they can be told how fantastic they are?

Kevin Love averaged 28.6 minutes last season for the Minnesota Timberwolves. And, yes, he had another ostensible power forward (Al Jefferson(notes)) ahead of him, but Big Al has been forced into playing center for most of his career at this point, and it was more or less the figurative definition of bananacakes that Love didn't play more minutes. Mind you, this wasn't just an armchair reading of the box score following a Timberwolves loss. You'd watch the game, you'd watch that fourth quarter and be left confounded as to why coach Kurt Rambis thought Love couldn't help.

I also had a vested interest, as those who take part in our weekly chats know. I bet a good mate of mine before the season that, regardless of the minutes he was handed, Love would have double-figure rebounds in 2009-10. Regardless of a starting nod, as well. No caveats, no excuses, just straight double-figure or not, and the loser would provide a case of beer as a result. And while I never got that case of beer (Patrick?), Love tipped and grabbed and yanked and boxed-out his way to 11 rebounds a game, a sterling mark for the previously mentioned 28.6 minutes per game.

Fourteen points, too.

And yet he sits. Wherever he plays, he sits.

And in listening to people talk or type, it appears as if Kevin Love sits for the same reasons that your weirdly un-humble narrator vented while watching his UCLA team play on CBS 2 1/2 years ago. I just realized I made an indirect reference to a terrible, terrible sitcom. You won't believe me, but that wasn't intentional.

People still discredit Kevin Love for the things he cannot do, to an extent that it allows them the room to ignore the things that he can do. And a couple of those things -- like, the rebounding and outlet passing -- he does as well or better than everyone else in this league.

For those that have just stumbled in, welcome. We all have to stumble in at some point and learn about this stuff. I hated it at the start, too.

So, if you're not familiar with rebound rate, that's cool. At least you're still willing to learn about rebound rate on a computer in what is likely a glorious late-summer afternoon where you're at. Rebound rate is the percentage of rebounds that a player hauls in, relative to the overall amount of available rebounds. I realize that was a bit redundant, but that's how it goes when you only pay attention to stats and never watch the games.

(Just preparing you for what you'll hear when you start to bring up rebound rate to your friends and/or Kurt Rambis.)

Anyway, Kevin Love hauls in a little more than one in every five rebounds available. That might not seem like much, but that's usually enough to lead the league. At age 21 last season, he pulled in 21.5 percent of all available rebounds, which was a better mark (20.5, sucker) that Dwight Howard(notes) managed at the same age. He is monstrous on the glass.

Also, 14 points per game? On a team with an offense that never worked and point guards who rarely passed? In 28.6 minutes per game? Timberwolves fans, do you remember a play being called for Love last season? I don't, and he still managed a double-double. Those weren't all tip-ins, you know.

Yet, he still doesn't play. And people who are paid to coach or analyze pro hoops -- Love has "gotten better as a rebounder?" That's like saying Yao Ming(notes) has gotten better at being tall -- are seeing something that I don't see. They refuse to appreciate what he does, and instead insist on emphasizing what he doesn't do well. And it's hurting their teams.

And when one of those teams is the U-S-A? Well, this guy tends to get riled up.

There's no point in asking for more minutes for Kevin Love during the world championships. That isn't happening. And with the jettisoning of Al Jefferson from the Timberwolves, it's more or less a given that Love will receive increased playing time with Minnesota next season. So, we're cool on that front.

What I'm hoping for is a decrease in prejudice, I suppose. Few come more stubborn than this mess, the guy's that's typing right now, but I came around. I wanted to chalk Love up as a CBS-driven novelty, spurred on by old men who love chest passes -- until I realized that I'm an old man, and I love chest passes.

Thumbs out!

(Try it whilst returning a cart to the cart corral. See if you can keep a straight line. Impress absolutely nobody.)

I came around on KLOVE, because his game demands it. His skill, yes, but also his production. Kevin Love has not only earned your respect, whether you know it or not, but he's earned about 10 more minutes per game than he was handed last season. More people need to know this.

Don't be one of those people.

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