Becoming one of the best players in the NBA doesn't just happen overnight.
When Kevin Love was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2008, he was promptly traded in what was described at the time as a “blockbuster trade”. It wasn’t quite as bad as the Vlade Divac/Kobe Bryant swap, but this is a trade that Memphis certainly has nightmares about today.
Love was sent to Minnesota, along with Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, and Jason Collins in exchange for O.J. Mayo, Antoine Walker, Marko Jaric, and Greg Buckner. None of these players amounted to much in the NBA outside of Love and Mayo, and even Mayo, who was selected two spots ahead of Love, has turned into more of a journeyman with numbers decreasing nearly every season. Love, on the other hand, has improved every aspect of his game significantly since arriving in Minnesota, becoming an elite rebounder, scorer and decision-maker, and is now one of the better passing big men in the league.
The Timberwolves franchise has been one of the worst in the league since their arrival prior to the 1989-90 season. They've only won two playoff series, and both were in Kevin Garnett’s MVP season of 2003-04. During Garnett’s stellar campaign, he averaged 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, 5 assists, 1.5 steals, 2.2 blocks per game, as well as a PER of 29.4. These numbers are eerily similar to those put up so far this season by Love (aside from the blocks). Since Garnett’s departure, they haven't had a winning record, nor have they finished better than fourth in the Midwest division.
Love began his tenure in the NBA as a center in the 2008-09 season, posting averages of 11/9/1 while shooting .459 from the field, and averaging just over four free throw attempts per game. In his second season, he asserted himself as more of a force in every aspect of the game, and his numbers jumped to 14/11/2, while shooting .450 from the field.
Those numbers have grown to 26/13/4 this season, and he is shooting .454 from the field, all while getting to the charity stripe over eight times pr game. Love received the Most Improved Player award following the 2010-11 season, and he has shown that he not only can score in the post, but stretch the floor in the way that few - if any - other players in the NBA today currently can.
Love ranks second in the NBA in numberFire's nERD efficiency statistic with a terrific 19.4 added win expectancy, behind only Kevin Durant, who leads the league with an astonishing 29.0. As far as comparisons to other players at his position in the league, there is really no argument that he is the MVP at his specific position - behind him is Blake Griffin with 14.0, and LaMarcus Aldridge, a player who is often compared to Love in terms of value, sits at only 6.2.
Love's numberFire efficiency score is also second in the league (behind Durant of course), adding 5.6 points per game to his team above expectation each time he is in the starting lineup.
According to the famous Hollinger efficiency metrics, Love ranks first among power forwards in EWA (Estimated Wins Added) with 14.1. His closest competitor is Griffin at 12.3. Griffin’s numbers may be a little inflated as a result of Chris Paul’s extended absence, but that is another argument in itself. As far as Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating (which can partially be captured in nERD), Kevin Love ranks third in the NBA at 27.39, behind only Durant (31.01) and LeBron James (28.85).
For those of you who are unfamiliar, PER is a complex calculation that determines a player’s per-minute performance. The league average has always been 15.00. PER adjusts minutes played, and rates them over a 48 minute average, adding for positives (points, rebounds, assists, etc.), and subtracting for negatives (missed shots, turnovers, etc.). Based on Love’s numbers for this season, he is on par with Michael Jordan’s career average of 27.91, which is the highest of any player. The highest recorded PER for an entire season belongs to the great Wilt Chamberlain, who posted a 31.82 during the 1962-63 season. Durant’s pace this season is largely unprecedented in NBA history, as he is on pace to post one of the highest PER of all-time.
Love is an absolute monster, and proving to be one of the NBA's most-effective players in the league.
Should He Be Traded?
Despite his amazing play, there has been a lot of speculation that Love could be traded before the deadline, which is coming up on February 20th. The Phoenix Suns have emerged as a possible suitor for a trade, and they have a plethora of young talent as well as multiple draft picks in the upcoming draft that they could use to get him.
Rumor has it that Love wants to sign with the Lakers following the 2014-15 season - a time in which he can opt out of the final year of his deal - but I think the Suns move makes the most sense. The Lakers have some young talent, but in my mind, heading to Los Angeles next year will likely only bring Love one shot at a title in the near future, provided that Kobe Bryant is healthy. Once Kobe retires, Love would once again be the All-Star player on a bad team.
Bringing in Martin, Chase Budinger, Ronny Turiaf, and Corey Brewer in the offseason, along with the emergence of Nikola Pekovic and Rubio’s improving game has only provided marginal improvement in Minnesota. If I’m the Timberwolves, I look to make a trade with Phoenix, and ask for the world in return. The Timberwolves could add a Morris brother (I’m partial toward Markieff), as well as potentially receiving multiple draft picks or multiple players as well.
It would be a much tougher pill to swallow if Love simply opts out of his contract next year, and Minnesota receives nothing in return. From Love’s perspective, he's still a young, improving star in this league, but we all know that there is one goal in the NBA, and that is to win championships. Let’s be honest, Love is never going to win one in Minnesota. If he lands in Phoenix, he'd be surrounded by the young core of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe and new head coach Jeff Hornacek, who is having tremendous success in turning around the Suns’ franchise in his first season. Adding Love to that team could make the difference in the Suns being pretenders or contenders, not only this season, but in the years to come.