Entering the 2012-13 campaign, Love’s career trajectory was set to take a serious step in the right direction. The big man was coming off of a breakout year (26.0 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 37.2 3PT%), and his Minnesota Timberwolves were primed to make a push toward the playoffs.
As it turned out, Love spent the majority of the season injured, and feelings of anguish began flowing from those who had once been so optimistic.
Entering the 2012-13 season, Love was deemed the seventh-best player in the Association—not to mention the top power forward—according to ESPN’s #NBARank. Flash forward to April, and he had dropped to No. 27 overall—No. 5 among power forwards.
ESPN won’t release its rankings for 2013-14 until late in the offseason, but Eric Pincus of HOOPSWORLD has taken the liberty of ranking the game’s best power forwards before preseason even hits.
Needless to say, Love’s superstar status isn’t what it once was. Entering the new year, the 24-year-old finds himself as the No. 6 player at the 4 position, residing behind the likes of Zach Randolph, Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan.
Bleacher Report’s own Ethan Norof offers up an interesting take on the current perception of Love, stating that people have simply forgotten how good he can be.
The old cliche states that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and while that may be true for love—the emotion—people are conveniently forgetting not only how good Love (the player) has been, but how good he can continue to be.
During Love’s shortened season, it was popular to knock the guy even when he was on the floor. His field-goal percentage dropped to a career low, his scoring was down to 18.3 points per game, and his three-point shooting fell to just 21.7 percent.
Love made up the difference by grabbing 14 rebounds per contest, but the Wolves needed efficiency, and the team’s leader simply wasn’t giving it to them.
But while Love’s performance failed to meet the ridiculously high bar he’d previously set for himself, the doubt being shelled his way is what’s setting him up for one of his best seasons yet.
Love’s ceiling is as high as any power forward’s in the game, yet he’s already near the top of the league at the position. He may not make SportsCenter’s Top 10 by flying above the rim, but he has a versatile offensive attack, and he puts up video game-like numbers on a nightly basis.
According to 82games.com, the Wolves scored 1.5 more points per 100 possessions (per 48 minutes) when Love was on the floor in 2012-13. However, that number was 8.4 the year before—a year in which he was healthy for 55 of 66 contests.
A healthy Love equates to a productive Love, and there’s little debating that fact. This team is going to find success under the star’s guidance, and his most recent 18-game showing should have little influence on where he’s ranked moving forward.
Aside from Love's gaudy numbers, he’s going to pass the eyeball test despite lacking athleticism. He can spread the floor, he’s a great passer—although a bit turnover prone—and he has incredible positioning and timing on the block.
It’s true that intangibles don’t look as good when you’re losing, but that’s where Love will aim to surprise in 2014.
If the Wolves stay healthy, the superstar can push his squad toward the playoffs for the first time in his career. We know he can put the ball in the basket, and we know he’s a monster on the glass, but in order to take the next step in his progression, he must be able to convert all those double-doubles into team-wide success.
Luckily for Love, he has an improved, and hopefully injury-free, roster with which he can play. Minnesota has legitimate shooters in Chase Budinger and Kevin Martin, Ricky Rubio is another year better, and if the team retains Nikola Pekovic, the balance from point guard to center is going to be unlike anything Love has experienced thus far.
The Wolves will make a lot of teams nervous toward the end of the season, and it all starts with their franchise player. If the team succeeds, he’s going to thrive at a whole new level, and he's going to shock those who believe the Randolphs and the Nowitzkis still have more to offer.
The NBA saw an anomaly in 2012-13 when it came to Love's performance, and it’s time that the game's best power forward reminds the league just how dominant he can be.