Kevin Love is good at the art of rebounding. He is good jostling for space for himself below the basket, creating a block between himself and competing rebounders, and timing his jump up perfectly to grab any misses off the basket. This skill has kept him amongst the NBA’s top rebounders ever since his rookie season four years ago.
But in a lot more ways, Kevin Love wasn’t supposed to be this good.
He was supposed to be overrated, overweight, too unathletic, and too slow. Despite being ranked as one of the best players in high school and college, he wasn’t supposed to be good enough for the league. Despite being the Pac-10 Conference Basketball Player of the Year in college, he was expected to take a step back amongst the world’s finest athletes in the NBA. Despite being the fifth pick in the 2008 draft, despite being a tenacious rebounder right from the Summer League of the rookie season, he was overlooked and passed on. Even the team that drafted him (Grizzles) traded him away on draft night, opting for a more traditional rookie star in OJ Mayo from the Timberwolves.
But four years after that trade, there no more doubt on who made the smarter decision on that draft night trade. Kevin Love has become one of the most rapid success stories in the NBA. A strong 6-foot-10 power forward with a penchant from grabbing rebounds, Love has rapidly expanded his game in the last few years, becoming the Most Improved Player of the Year, grabbing two All-Star spots, and suddenly elevating his scoring to stand amongst the most elite scorers in the league. At this point in the season, Love is only behind Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James points per game and only behind Dwight Howard in rebounds per game.
And then the exponential escalation went into even higher gear. Over the last week, Love scored 51 points and 14 rebounds in a loss for the Timberwolves against the Thunder, the best team in the West. Two days later, he logged in 30 points and 21 rebounds in a win. That was the 24-year-old’s seventh 30 point-20, rebound game, already eclipsing any amount of 30-20 games by the greatest power forwards of the last decade: Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and Dirk Nowitzki. Over a year ago, he had perhaps one of the most historical statistical NBA games in recent memory, scoring 31 points and grabbing 31 rebounds in a win against the Knicks.
He wasn’t supposed to be a superstar.
But here he is, trying to lead a sub-.500 Timberwolves team to the playoffs for the first time since the team broke down and rebuilt after the Kevin Garnett trade. With rookie sensation Ricky Rubio on his side, Love seemed to be heading for his first trip to the NBA playoffs, but an injury to Rubio has forced the young team to take a step back again. Still, with a supporting cast of Derrick Williams, Nikola Pekovic, Michael Beasley, and Luke Ridnour, Love seems to have enough around him to be optimistic for his future in Minnesota. By the time Rubio returns next season, this team can start aiming for even higher stratospheres.
There is still a lot of winning left to do, though. The Timberwolves won only 17 games last season, and although have improved to 24-27 so far this year, they don’t look good enough to make the playoffs in the competitive West at the current rate. Despite his heady averages of 26.3 ppg and 13.8 rpg this season, Love will have to get even better. He’ll have to be a smarter defender, a more efficient scorer, a better passer, and most importantly, a greater leader.
But who is going to doubt him now? He was supposed to be too slow and unathletic to compete with NBA’s gifted forwards, but instead he worked to be better than most of them. If he wasn’t supposed to be here anyways, anything from this point on is a bonus. And all that the NBA’s newest superstar needs is the bonus. As an excellent rebounder, all he needs is the little bit of space, the space to jostle out competitive power forwards, time his ascent perfectly and grab the opportunity to be the best.