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Watch Kevin Love Down the Stretch

This article was part of The 63rd Carnival of the NBA. Thanks, Waiting for Next Year.

Two weeks ago when speaking about the Rookie of the Year race, I pushed Kevin Love as a dark horse ROY candidate. In fact, I called him the fourth best rookie thus far and said all he needs is increased playing time to become a legitimate contender for the award.

Well, Al Jefferson is out for the season. With the only other bigs on the Wolves roster being journeymen Brian Cardinal and Jason Collins and the undersized Ryan Gomes, Kevin Love is in for just that – increased playing time.

Love was heralded as a lottery pick out of UCLA this year, though probably not the franchise player type. The scouting report basically read that he is a fantastic passing big man, but his body type and lack of athleticism may keep him from being a scoring threat or defensive presence. A few months in, Love has proven to be a very valuable asset and a serviceable undersized center (or power forward, when Al Jefferson is healthy), though the ‘not a franchise player’ tag appears correct. Still, Kev-Love has been nothing short of impressive.

Through 51 games, Love is averaging 9.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in just 24 minutes. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that he’s playing just half a game and putting up great numbers despite it. He is third among rookies with a player efficiency rating of 17.7, averaging 15.8 and 14.7 per 40 minutes. Furthermore, Love is 4th in the NBA in rebounding rate (the percentage of missed shots a player rebounds), pulling down 21.4% of misses when he’s in the game. That number is even better when you focus on the offensive end, as Love is second to only Marcin Gortat in offensive rebounding rate, pulling in 16.5% of errant shots at that end of the floor.

So what can we expect from Love with increased playing time? Well, some simple calculations (splitting Jefferson’s 36 minutes per game between Gomes, Cardinal, Collins, and Love based on current playing time) suggest that Love will receive an additional 12 minutes a game. This appears to be the plan, as in the one game Jefferson has missed so far, Love played a season high 38 minutes. While Kevin McHale has communicated a desire to bring Love’s development along slowly, he has little choice but to push Love’s minutes to around 35 a night.

Figuring in the additional minutes, Love would be projected to post averages of about 14.1 and 13.1. You could also reasonably expect his scoring to increase, as his usage rate (possessions used per 40 minutes) thus far has been a pretty reasonable 17.7. Obviously with Big Al out, the offensive focus will shift at least slightly towards Love. However, I’ll leave this piece out of the discussion for now, simply because there may be negative effects (more focus from defences, guarding the tougher rebounder, etc) that could scale back Love’s numbers. So I’m assuming, then, averages the rest of the way of about 12 points and 11 rebounds.

If Love kept that pace up for the remaining 31 games, he would finish the season averaging 10.4 and 9.6, just edging out Al Horford’s numbers from last season when he was considered the number two ROY candidate behind Kevin Durant (though Horford’s defense and shooting percentage were stronger than Love’s).

So it seems I was a little overzealous in claiming Love could be a dark horse Rookie of the Year Candidate – even with a strong finish to the season, his numbers will have trouble comparing to those of Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo, and Russell Westbrook. Still, it will be interesting to see how Love handles the increased role and playing time down the stretch, and if he can show his detractors that he’s really just a few minutes of playing time away from being a good-to-great big man.

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One Response to “Watch Kevin Love Down the Stretch”

  1. Carnival of the NBA #63: Stress Relief | WaitingForNextYear Says:

    [...] on your window, you might be… Kevin Love.  With Al Jefferson going down with an ACL injury, the rookie is bound to be hot down the stretch.  Possibly even walking away with the Rookie of the Year.  Which may then [...]

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