Kevin Love is injured once again and, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, the forward is expected to miss at least two months with a broken hand. This injury comes in the midst of a season where Timberwolves fans have seen the steady decline in his play since his return on November 11.
This makes it second straight year where the hope of NBA playoffs in Minnesota has been hampered by injury (lest I remind you that Rubio that hasn’t been the same since his return?).
Forget about the team’s alleged curse right now—let’s focus on Love. He has not been the same since the knuckle push-up incident and almost all of his vital stats are below his career average.
Field-goal percentage: .352, down from .449.
Three-point percentage: .217, down from .352.
Free-throw percentage: .704, down from .813.
He has been scraping glass, however. While his offensive rebounding percentage is lower than average (11.3 this year/13.5 average), his defensive rebounding percentage (22.6/21.5) and true rebounding percentage (11.9/10.5) are actually higher than his career average.
Perhaps the numbers are skewed because of sample size; Love has only played 18 games this year and his previous low was 55, meaning the most likely culprit here is injury.
A quick timeline for you guys:
Love misses nine games following the knuckle push-up injury and returns for a November 11 contest against Denver.
Exactly a month later, on December 11, Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski releases his piece in which the superstar forward outlines his disgust with maligned Wolves GM David Kahn and owner Glen Taylor. The discussion was had at a Philadelphia steakhouse, presumably when the team visited the city for a contest against the 76ers on December 4.
Love offers that Taylor doesn’t think he’s a superstar and that Kahn appears to be lacking a plan, among other things.
Some fans have taken Love’s side, saying that he should be treated as a superstar and that Kahn’s inability to draft a serviceable player other than Rubio to supplement Love’s talents justifies the 24-year-old’s anger with the club.
Others feel that Love comes off as entitled and agree with Taylor that a superstar would carry his team to the playoffs a la LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Furthermore, Love’s comments about Kahn could inadvertently alienate high-profile teammates like veteran Andrei Kirilenko and two budding stars in Alexey Shved and Nikola Pekovic.
Regardless of your individual feelings on Love’s comments, the forward endured hard times following the Wojnarowski piece. He sprained his hand on December 14 against New Orleans and missed Rubio’s triumphant return against Dallas on December 15 with flu-like symptoms.
So what’s behind the slump?
Ask a die-hard fan and they’ll tell you that a simple eye test will reveal that Love’s shooting motion hasn’t been the same since he returned. Like any big dude shooting from downtown, Love never looked sexy shooting the three-ball, but he was bothered by the brace and removed it shortly after returning.
Even without the device, he didn’t shoot outside shots like he once did and even started missing gimmies near the basket. This was a bit of a team epidemic, to be honest, so perhaps it is just the “Timberwolves Curse.” In Love’s case, however, it is not far-fetched to think it had something to do with the hand injury.
For the superstitious type that wants to blame this on karma, conspiracy or curse, go buy a Ty Lawson Denver Nuggets voodoo doll immediately. The Nuggets have been bad news for Love and the Wolves this season. Take a look:
Love drops 34 in his return against Denver…and the Wolves lose.
Love’s first game after the Wojnarowski piece comes against the Nuggets and he misses the double-double, grabbing 14 boards but only scoring eight points. (Also of note: Love missed the double-double against Philly, the day he supposedly sat down with the Yahoo! writer to do the piece).
Then, Love injures his hand in the Mile High City playing against, you guessed it, the Nuggets.
Call it bad karma for drafting Lawson and dealing him to Denver, if that suits your fancy. Call it a hex on Love for trash-talking his team's management. Call it anything you like. All I’m saying, my superstitious friends, is that you have to do whatever you have to do to that Lawson doll in order to reverse the curse.
I’ve already laid out the numbers for the basketball nerds at the beginning of this piece, but I’ll give you pocket-protector-wielding, Bill James-worshipping people out there a little number to process: win shares per 48 minutes (WS/48). Basically this number is an estimation of wins contributed by a player per 48 minutes played. I’d tell you more about this stat, but I’m a bit of a space cadet myself.
Here’s what you need to know: Love has averaged .174 WS/48 since joining the team in 2008. This season he has .112 WS/48. That doesn’t seem so bad until you hear this: Last year the forward had 10.0 win shares, meaning he contributed 10 wins to the team. This year? 1.4.
In short, he’s not contributing as much to the Wolves this year as he has done in the past.
“I’ve had plenty of people tell me who I was going to be," he told Wojnarowski in the Yahoo! article, "and I feel like, for the time being, I’ve exceeded that.”
It is ironic then, that in a year when much was expected for both Love and the club, the forward has played his worst basketball. He can’t do much about his foul luck regarding injury, although I’m sure he’ll never do a knuckle push-up for the rest of his life. Perhaps his struggles this season will entice him to come back even stronger—whether it be at the end of this year or in 2013-14.
Regardless of what happens in the future, one truth remains: No matter what way you look at it, this has been a down year for Love.
All statistics are accurate as of January 9, 2013.
Tom Schreier covers the Timberwolves for Bleacher Report and writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.