Monday, January 3, 2011

First Impressions: Kevin Love

Tonight, I am in the middle of seeing Kevin Love play a full basketball game for the first time (people might actually watch the T Wolves play by choice now!) My overall assessment is, despite having advanced skills when it comes to rebounding, touch around the basket area and shooting 3s and free throws, Love remains a middling NBA starting power forward because of an inability to make mid-range shots, happy feet, lack of toughness around the basket and poor defensive play when it comes to challenging fall-aways.

I suspect it will take him 2 years to become average in these areas, which will make him a top 10 NBA player.

Of course, it will come as no surprise to any NBA fan that Love impressed me with his rebounding (even more than I expected!) because his fundamentals were so solid. Boxing out has become a lost art among NBA players, but Love always puts a body on someone if they are around the basket area. If there is not an opponent within 12-15 feet of the basket, Love is a master at staying in the middle of a zone that does not interfere with a teammate's rebounding zone. (A very underrated skill which is just as important as boxing-out, and the reason that rebounds just seem to "find" Love.)

On the offensive end, his fight for positioning actually comes at the cost of his and his team's shooting chances. This is because he goes for positioning in areas where it is impossible to get a post pass. He makes up for this disruption in his team's offensive sets with offensive rebounds and putbacks. However, when he becomes more comfortable playing in half-court sets in places other than the 3 point line, I expect he will sacrifice some offensive rebounding to become more a part of the regular offensive flow.

His touch around the basket is impressive, but again it is in use basically only when he gets a rebound, as he is hardly ever in position to receive passes in the post. This also makes it doubtful that he has a good back-to-the-basket game or a good hook shot.

He is great and part of the offensive sets when he is shooting 3s. And he gets to the line and makes his shots there (I assume, but I have not seen enough of him, that he gets to the free throw line because of people fouling him when he gets an offensive rebound.)

He is not a good midrange shooter, which is why he is shooting .454 from the field despite shooting .437 from beyond the arc and having great touch around the basket. I expect this to improve GREATLY for 2 reasons:

1. young players tend to be bad midrange shooters (according to Hollinger) when they are starting out, and tend to think they are much better shooting there than they are.

2. He took a BANK shot in the 2nd quarter. Love is a true student of the game, and anyone who knows NBA history well knows that, for midrange shots, the bank shot is BY FAR AND AWAY the most efficient way to score, and NBA players seemed only to abandon it because it lost them style points. If you don't believe me about the effectiveness of bank shots, try to check out Tim Duncan play a few games.

The bigger problem with his shooting inside the arc is that when he gets the ball 10-18 feet from the basket he gets "happy feet" and travels. This is likely because he has not worked a ton on footwork and because he is nervous getting the ball in this area.

This problem should not be as self-correcting as the midrange shots, and it will be up to the coaching staff to find ways to incorporate drills for him within team play.

Love's biggest problem seems to be banging around the basket and contesting fall-aways. This is not a surprise for someone who has just entered the league two years ago and is 22 years old. He should physically mature up to a peak in his late 20s, even if he foregoes a ton of lifting weights and physical training (he seems like the type of player to do more basketball drills and less physical training. This tends to help players as they develop into their late 20s, but hurt them once they reach the wrong side of 30. Antoine Walker and Allen Iverson are prime examples of this.)

He needs to get more aggressive when contesting mid-range shots and in general on the defensive end. Big baby got a TON of uncontested looks (granted, he was not hitting them, but usually these are shots that he does make.) Love left Davis WIDE OPEN the whole game. When Davis decided to take Love to the hole, you could see this was because Love did not want to expose his poor post defense.

This is a problem of attitude and not a problem of skill. He has 2-3 inches on Davis, and Davis is not a threat around the basket area, so he can always rely on Darko (a great shot-blocker) to help out should Davis go by him.

Love is such a student of the game (watching him play for 2 minutes or even listening to him talk for 2 minutes will reveal this) that I doubt any of these weaknesses will exist for long. Barring injury, he is a sure-fire Hall of Fame player. But, if you do not believe me about him being a middling starting NBA power forward as of now, consider this list (in no particular order):

1. Chris Bosh
2. Kevin Garnet
3. Pau Gasol
4. Tim Duncan
5. Dirk Nowitzki
6. Amar'e Stoudemire
7. Carlos Boozer
8. Josh Smith
9. David West
10. Blake Griffin
11. Zach Randolph
12. Paul Millsap
13. Louis Scola

Love is still behind all these players, mostly because of his shortcomings on the defensive end. By the end of NEXT year, however, I suspect he will pass all these players except Gasol (and, possibly, Amar'e.)