What does Kevin Love need to do to lead the Timberwolves to the playoffs?
A season that was expected by many to result in a long-awaited playoff appearance for the Timberwolves yielded disaster. Love was one of many Minnesota players to spend most of the year on the injured list, as the UCLA product played in only 18 games, and the Wolves limped to a 31-51 finish.
As an individual, Love was extremely disappointing. Sure, he averaged a double-double, recording 18.3 points and a hefty 14 rebounds per game, but a deeper look into his numbers shows that his performance was less than desirable.
Love shot only 35.2 percent from the floor, 21.7 percent from three-point range, 70.4 percent from the free-throw line and posted .084 win shares per 48 minutes.
But hold on; it gets even uglier. He also recorded a true shooting percentage of 45.8 percent and an effective field-goal percentage of 38.6 percent.
All of those were career lows for the 25-year-old who tallied 26 points and 13.3 boards a night the year before.
Fortunately for Love, 2013-14 is a new season, and the Timberwolves have gotten healthy. So, naturally, there are somewhat lofty expectations again. As a matter of fact, ESPN's Marc Stein ranked them 13th in his training camp power rankings.
Of course, that ranking's foundation is based upon Love stepping up, and there are numerous areas where the 6'10" forward needs to improve his game.
1. Stop Shooting So Many Threes and Play Inside More
Okay, Kevin. You're a big man who can hit the three-ball. We get it. That doesn't mean that your 260-pound self should be spending most of your time out on the perimeter, especially given the fact that you have demonstrated that you can score effectively in the post.
As you can see from the GIF, Love has very good footwork inside. He also possesses a combination of size, strength and finesse that gives him all the tools he needs to be a successful low-post player. However, the fact that he has shot the three-ball very well in the past is leading him to pull away from the paint and out to the three-point line far too often.
To be fair, Love is a very good outside shooter, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with having that little wrinkle in your game. As a matter of fact, it makes you that much more lethal as a big man because it makes you virtually unguardable. However, the amount of triples he has been attempting is hurting his game, and that was very evident in 2012-13.
|YEAR||3PTM||3PTA||3PT%||3PTA PER GAME|
Source: Basketball Reference
Sorry, but taking 5.1 treys per game is unacceptable for a power forward of his ability, especially when you are only hitting on 21.7 percent of your attempts.
Again, this isn't to say that Love should stop shooting trifectas completely, but that he should simply curb the frequency with which he does. He is far too talented of an all-around offensive player to spend that much time behind the arc.
Also consider the fact that the more threes Love takes, the fewer offensive rebounds he will be in position to corral. There has been a correlation between his productivity on the offensive glass and the volume of triples he attempts, too.
|YEAR||3PTA PER 36 MINUTES||OFF. REB PER 36 MINUTES||OFF. REB %|
Source: Basketball Reference
See how his offensive rebounding numbers have been steadily declining as his three-point attempts increase? That means fewer possessions for the Timberwolves, and, in turn, fewer scoring opportunities.
Love must dedicate much more time on the block than he currently does. His career field-goal percentage of 44.9 percent is simply intolerable due to the types of shots he frequently takes. The low clip is a direct result of jacking up too many triples and not taking enough shots in the paint.
Not only that, but generally, guys who take a lot of treys tend to have higher effective field-goal percentages, as that stat adjusts for the fact that a three-point field goal is worth more than one of the two-point variety. Well, Love's career effective field-goal percentage is a lackluster 48.2 percent, and only once has he ever been at 50 percent.
If the Timberwolves are going to contend for a playoff spot in 2013-14, Love must break his fixation with the three-ball.
2. Become More Efficient Inside
It was mentioned earlier that Love is skilled in the post and that he is fully capable of scoring points inside.
That's still true. Again, Love has all of the tools one needs to be a fruitful low-post player. The problem is, he has not fully harnessed that ability, and his efficiency has suffered as a result.
Take a look at the video of Love's post moves below. While he is incredibly deft and possesses a very, very soft touch, you'll notice that a significant portion of his shots come too far away from the basket and that he occasionally looks off-balance when he shoots the basketball.
Those little hitches are the primary reason as to why Love's percentages inside are not what they should be. In 2012-13, Love was absolutely abysmal around the basket. Check out his shot chart.
Shooting just over 40 percent at the rim is disgraceful.
Now, in Love's defense, that was by far the worst percentage of his career, and he was right in between 53 and 54 percent in each of his other four seasons (which isn't that great either, to be honest). Plus, he only played in 18 games during the 2012-13 campaign due to various injuries.
Still, that number is atrocious, and, again, shooting 53-54 percent on shots less than eight feet from the basket is nothing to write home about, either.
The good news is that Love can get better. It's not that he doesn't have the talent; he just needs to correct his mechanics, and while that's easier said than done, it's certainly doable.
The main thing is that Love must make a conscious effort to get himself under control when he is posting up. Working deeper in the post would also help significantly. You probably noticed during the video that, for someone as big as Love, he tends to fade away far too often rather than use his bulk to push his defender further. Obviously, that results in lower-percentage shots.
One move that Love does have down pat is the spin to the baseline. It is a very quick move, and if he can add a few more nuances to his overall arsenal, it will become that much deadlier.
Again, the foundation is absolutely there for Love to be a dominant post player. He just needs some refinement.
Hopefully, Love devotes more practice time to sharpening his post skills than he does to working on his long-distance shooting.
3. Improve Defensively, Especially in The Pick-and-Roll
The most well-known hole in Love's game is his defense. If he were a good defender, there would be virtually no debate on who the best power forward in the game is.
After all, Love can put up 25 and 15 on a nightly basis, so the fact that he is not considered to be hands down the league's top power forward is an indictment of how poor he really is on that end of the floor.
Let's start with something general that Love needs to improve: shot-blocking.
Love is 6'10", and yet, he owns a lifetime mark of 0.5 blocks per game. That is inexcusable for someone his size. You would think he would swat at least one shot a night due to the mere fact that he is 6'10".
Love does not need to become Dikembe Mutombo, but it would greatly behoove him and his team if he would block a few shots here and there.
Now, you may say that Love simply isn't athletic enough to do that, and while that may be true, shot-blocking is an art that is not purely based on how high one can jump. A very solid portion of it has to do with positioning and timing, and that is something Love needs to work on.
Okay; so we have Love's most basic defensive weakness out of the way. It's time to dig a little deeper.
One area where Love really struggles is pick-and-roll defense. That really should not come as much of a surprise, either, as he doesn't exactly possess great footspeed.
Watch how James Harden takes advantage of Love in pick-and-roll sets toward the end of a game last season.
On the first possession, Love positions himself perfectly. However, due to Love's lack of lateral quickness, Harden simply blows by him for an easy two points.
In the second screen-and-roll, Love comes out too far, and he foolishly tries to reach in and slap the ball away from Harden, allowing the Houston Rockets star to effortlessly get into the lane.
In the final play of the video, Love just takes an incredibly bad angle and, for some inexplicable reason, plays Harden to go to his left, which is exactly what the 2-guard wants. Two more points.
So, it's not only poor footspeed that prevents Love from being an adequate defender. It's also his basketball IQ, which could clearly use some fine-tuning on that end of the floor.
There are also times when Love looks absolutely lost in one-on-one situations.
Take a look at the GIF. Love appears completely clueless as to how to defend Tyler Hansbrough. He gets fooled, and then doesn't even make an attempt to get a hand up contest the shot.
Love may not be able to get that much quicker, but what he can do is learn how to play defense more effectively. There is no excuse for a player of his caliber to play so haphazardly on that end of the floor.