Culture of Hoops

Kevin Love wins coveted NBA popularity contest

Image courtesy of nikk_la/Flickr.

Image courtesy of nikk_la/Flickr.

The NBA has finally validated what every fantasy basketball enthusiast already knew — Kevin Love is an All Star. The power forward ranks fourth in the league in scoring (25 points per game) and is second in rebounding (13 per game). Still, up until the very last votes were tallied, he trailed Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers by some 20,000 votes for the last frontcourt spot on the Western Conference squad. Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders was the one to inform Love of the final voting. While Love was a reserve in 2011 and 2012, this is the first starting nod for a Minnesota player since Kevin Garnett in 2007.

Love will start along side Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Griffin in the frontcourt, with Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant rounding out the backcourt. That is, assuming Bryant’s injured knee heals in time to allow him to participate in the All-Star festivities, held this year in New Orleans on February 16.

Durant led the West with 1.3 million votes. Curry had 1 million, Bryant 988,000, Griffin 688,000 and Love 661,000. The Eastern Conference starters will be LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving. Only a late push, spurned on by a Timberwolves marketing campaign, allowed Love to surge past Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard in the West.

While a case could be made for Howard, who has played well during his first half-season in Houston, the numbers were simply too overwhelming for Kevin Love. In 40 games this season, not only has Love posted incredible scoring and rebounding numbers, he’s shooting 45.9 percent from the floor (58.6 true shooting percentage), and his 2.4 3-pointers per game are beyond impressive, particularly for a power forward. Sure, you can knock Love’s often uninspired defense, something that has cost the Timberwolves more than a few games this year (a team-wide problem, to be certain). Overall, though, his play has been downright superb, making him a deserving All-Star starter and thrusting him into the NBA MVP conversation, if only on the periphery.

Kevin Love is easily the Timberwolves’ MVP. With a subpar bench and inconsistent shooting from the exciting Ricky Rubio, the T-Wolves owe any and all of their potential playoff hopes to their All-Star starter. With Love on the floor, Minnesota is 18.1 points per 100 possessions better as a team. Love is also forging quite the frontcourt rapport with Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota’s center in the midst of a career year. Not only are they a formidable scoring tandem up front, but he and Love have forged a meaningful relationship off the court as well.

While there is still speculation that Love will depart the Minnesota if and when his contract expires, the creation of an actual team identity, something that hasn’t existed in the Minnesota locker room in some time, could offer at least some incentive for the former UCLA Bruin to take up a more permanent residence. This is a team that has been actively seeking a player with whom fans can identify as the true face of the franchise since Kevin Garnett was traded to Boston following the 2006-07 season. For the franchise to make an actual turnaround, and become at least a playoff caliber team out West, Love will need to be a part of the process. He’s already the key to a strong lineup, and while the playoff picture is a crowded one, there is a place for the Timberwolves among the Western Conference’s elite providing they can shore up their team defense while continuing to be one of the more formidable scoring offenses going.

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