Is ESPN's NBA Rank Right to Rank Kevin Love Ahead of Dwyane Wade?

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 27, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat holds up his finger after hitting a shot and being fouled against the Indiana Pacers in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 24, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.The Heat defeated the Pacers 105-93 to win the series. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As bizarre as ESPN's 2012 NBA Player Rankings have been, the next thing you know they'll have someone like Kevin Love ranked ahead of Dwyane Wade.

Say what?!

They did rank Love ahead of DWade? Please tell me your joking.

Before we get to all the things wrong with underrating Wade, let's begin with the Love affair. Yes, he's a very good perimeter scorer, and yes, he's one of the best rebounders in the league. But we're also dealing with an epic case of statistical inflation here.

Nearly 31 percent of Love's rebounds came on the offensive end in 2011-12, a factoid that might make his fans gush all the more at first glance. Unfortunately, it might also have something to do with the fact that the Minnesota Timberwolves ranked 27th in the league with a .433 field-goal percentage.

When your team misses over 46 shots a game, there will be a few extra rebounds to be had. And with Minnesota ranking sixth in the league in three-point attempts (but just 23rd in three-point percentage), a number of those misses are the sort that clang far away from the rim and outside the reach of defenders boxing out.

It should tell you something that center Nikola Pekovic averaged 7.4 rebounds a game in just under 27 minutes. Unless you believe there's something in the water up there in Minnesota (besides ice), there must be other explanations for why this team ranks as one of the best rebounding teams in the league.

Besides the missed shots and long offensive rebounds, it might have something to do with the fact that the Timberwolves yield the second most opponent field-goal attempts in the league.

So yes, Love is a great rebounder, but let's not get too carried away. Those numbers have some circumstantial help.

He's also a great scorer, but let's be honest—he benefits in large part from the fact that opposing 4s leave him open on the perimeter. Ryan Anderson scored over 16 points a game last season doing just that.

It doesn't mean you're an amazing scorer—it just means you're a good shooter who people don't guard on account of your position.

But this isn't just about Love being coddled by an uncritical media.

It's also about people forgetting that Dwyane Wade just might be the best shooting guard in the league. He's not the perimeter shooter that Kobe Bryant is, but he's a much more efficient shooter because of it.

Wade shot just under 50 percent last season, a career mark bested only in 2010-11.

If he's lost a step at age 30, it certainly hasn't shown in his production or efficiency.

In fact, his 26.37 player efficiency rating wasn't only higher than Love's (at 25.41), it was third in the entire league—far ahead of the 17th-ranked Bryant. Of course, PER isn't everything, and it can easily overstate a player's true value.

But anyone who's watched Wade play recently knows that isn't the case. So why exactly is the guy ranked eighth by the ESPN experts?

A couple of explanations come to mind.

Wade's minutes have declined in an attempt to keep him fresh for the postseason and, frankly, to make the most of an increasingly deep second unit that isn't half bad. In turn, the numbers just aren't as flashy as they used to be, and it's easy to mistake that kind of trend as reflecting a decline in a player's actual effectiveness.

We've seen the same kind of reactions to Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan over the last few years, so Wade is only the latest victim of unscrupulous statistical observation.

Wade's role has also changed with LeBron James frequently taking on point-forward responsibilities. After averaging around seven assists for the better part of his career, he now averages just 4.6.

That doesn't mean he can't make plays—it just means he plays off the ball more often these days (something Kevin Durant's detractors should also take to heart).

The other thing working against Wade is that he was hit-or-miss in the playoffs.

He cracked 30 points just twice in the title run, and the only game that really sticks out in anyone's memory was that Game 6 against Indiana when he dropped 41. His overall production remained steady for the rest of the way, but it was clear that even when the team needed something more from Wade—e.g. when Chris Bosh was injured—he wasn't capable of taking games over like he was once so oft to do.

That probably has something to do with his left knee troubles, which culminated in Wade having the knee drained prior to his disappointing Game 3 against the Pacers. It might also have had to do with a looming custody battle that would have distracted anyone.

Though there are perfectly reasonable explanations for Wade's inconsistency, those playoffs are still the last thing most will remember of Wade and likely have much to do with him sliding a bit in the rankings.

Don't be at all surprised if he reminds us what he's capable of doing this season with a few classic performances to remember him by.