Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Comparing Kevin Love's Season to Kevin Garnett's MVP Year: Surprisingly Close

Love has already nearly equaled Garnett's MVP 03/04 season...best yet to come?

When Kevin Love was drafted it was the same summer of 2008 that Kevin Garnett won his one and currently only NBA Championship with his new team, the Boston Celtics.  Garnett had been "The Man" in Minnesota for the previous 12 seasons, now he was celebrating in the streets of Boston just one year after being subjected to a long losing season in Minnesota.  Wolves fans were watching the confetti fall, some bitter and angry at Garnett for the divorce between him and Minnesota, others felt happy for a guy that had provided so many good nights in cold Minnesota winters.

I personally liked Garnett, but had a lot of complaints with his game.  I thought the move to Boston and the need for Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to help Garnett get his title only proved that my main complaint about Garnett was completely true.  He didn't want to be "The Man".  He may not say it, he may say something completely different, but deep down in his heart it was all to obvious to those who watched him shy away from ball in the big spot of too many games in his career.  Everyone, including myself, loved his defensive intensity and effort, but to me he was a very flawed NBA superstar.

Flawed as he may have been, he was the best player to take the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves ever, until this year. 

Kevin Love is near, if not on, the same level as Kevin Garnett, in Garnett's best year of his illustrious 16 year career.  To the stats provided by basketball-reference.com that prove it:

Kevin Love through 54 games in his 4th season -

TotalsShootingPer Game
Current PER - 25.6

Kevin Garnett through 54 games in his MVP season 2003/04 -

TotalsShootingPer Game
Entire Season PER - 29.6

If you had to give an edge on pure numbers, the edge would be to Garnett, no doubt.  The thing that is interesting to me though, is that this was Garnett's 9th year and he was 27 and in the absolute prime of his career, with the best team he had played on up to that point around him.  Love is truly the only real offensive option for the Wolves most nights, surrounded by rookies, and boneheaded youth.  Garnett had Cassell and Sprewell to take some of the defensive focus off of him each night.  Love doesn't have that luxury. 

An impressive stat in which Love dominates Garnett in this comparison is the free throw shooting.  This shows to me again one of my biggest complaints about Garnett.  Even in his best scoring season, he wasn't aggressive in the way he got the points and that lack of aggressiveness shows in his lack of free throw attempts.  Kevin Love is just as much, if not more of, a jump (set) shooter than Garnett is but even with that finds ways to get to the line.  Getting to the free throw line is a true sign of a star.  

Need proof that free throws attempts are a gauge of a star?  Check out the all time leaders in free throw attempts in NBA history:

1.Karl Malone*13188
2.Wilt Chamberlain*11862
3.Shaquille O'Neal11252
4.Moses Malone*11090
5.Kareem Abdul-Jabbar*9304
6.Oscar Robertson*9185
7.Kobe Bryant8831
8.Jerry West*8801
9.Michael Jordan*8772
10.Charles Barkley*8643
* = Member of Hall of Fame...Kobe might as well have one as well.

You have the best ever in Jordan.  The best power forward ever in Karl Malone.  The best center ever in either Shaq or Wilt.  The guy that is the logo of the NBA in Jerry West.  Every name on that list was (is for Kobe) "NBA Superstar" personified when they played.  Garnett is 38th all time on the list.  He is only three behind Magic Johnson, so you say, "Ben this is a bunk theory me boy."  To that I say, "Shut your mouth Magic only played 13 seasons, two of which he only played 37 and 32 games respectively.  While Garnett has played in 16 seasons.  Magic averaged 450 FTA per season while Garnett is averaging 365 FTA per (including this incomplete and lockout shortened year).  Suck on that guy I invented to say something to me in order for me to prove a point!"  

If Kevin Love keeps up his current average of 392 FTA per season up (also including this incomplete and lockout shortened year) for Garnett's 16 years, Love would currently be 30th in all time free throws.  Yet, if you look at what is probably going to be more like Love's average the rest of his career, the past two seasons average of 479 FTA per season for the next 12 years and add his sub par first two seasons, he ends up in the 23rd spot all time.  Just behind Tim Duncan's current mark and just ahead of Patrick Ewing.  Not bad company.

Now I understand free throws aren't the only sign of a star, it is just one of many statistical categories and measurements.  Garnett is no doubt a star, but I'd say Kevin Love already has the makings of being a superstar.  A guy that you can go to at the end of every single close game to take the big shot, and he will not only accept he challenge but relish in the role.  Even with a different offensive style from most go-to guys, Love can be relied upon offensively to carry the load and to keep his efficiency up can get to the free throw line, which we have proven to be important.

Love isn't the defender that Garnett is and was, and he never will be.  He athletically and physically isn't as gifted as Garnett, but does that and that alone keep him from ever being looked at as a better player than KG?  I think not.  Love needs to obviously improve his defense, as he already has, and continue his current production on offense and I believe Love will go down as the better player.  

Another key to Love's career being "better" than KG's would be something immeasurable by stats, learning to be the leader of a team.  Garnett was unquestionably the leader of the Wolves when he played at Target Center and has arguably been the leader of the Celtics in his time there, Love isn't.  I'd say Love allowed a rookie to come in and take the on court leadership role from him this year with Rubio.  Not that Rubio can't be the leader, but Love hasn't exactly filled the role since Rubio's injury, and you can see that the team without Rubio lacks on court leadership.  

Love needs to ensure that his teammates respect him, and respect his voice on the court, not just his game.  He is only in his fourth season, so I think this will definitely be something Love is working on going into next year.  A season like the one he is currently having will give him the credibility to speak to his teammates the way a leader needs to and to command the respect from them when he does speak.  

The Wolves have gone in the tank yet again at the end of this year.  You can't blame Love as he averaged  30.7 ppg and 13.9 rbs in March.  The injury to Rubio was the pin that popped the Wolves hope filled balloon.  Even a Herculean effort by Love wasn't going to save it, but what I see as a lack of vocal leadership since Ricky went down has been my only complaint.

Overall Love still has work to do, and I am certainly not saying that he already has passed Garnett.  But I'd say the fact that he is already, arguably, on KG's level the year Garnett won the MVP says a lot.  The stats aren't really worth comparing if you were to look at KG's 4th year compared to Love's.  Love wins.  He may not have already passed him, but I'd say there is a good chance he will very soon as he continues to round out his game and improve on his deficiencies.  That is saying something coming from the depressing summer of 2008 when we traded away OJ Mayo to get a very good, but not projected superstar, chubby power forward out of UCLA named Kevin Love.  I thought the Wolves were wrong at the time and only were adding to the downward slide they had started since KG's MVP year...I, and many others, were wrong.

How nice it is to sometimes be proven wrong.

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