Love Blends Old-School Rebounding With The New Age
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Sam Cassell has seen firsthand a lot of power forwards during his NBA career that are widely considered some of the best of all time. Duncan. Malone. Garnett. Barkley. Nowitzki. All of them either played with or against Cassell during his 14 years in the league.
But for Cassell, Wolves power forward Kevin Love stands out in today's game because of the hybrid mix of talent he brings to the court every single night. Hampered by injury this season, Love was not elected to his third consecutive All-Star Game this weekend. But his presence was still felt in Houston because he continues to be a unique blend of rebounding, 3-point shooting and consistent offense from the 4 position.
“You got The Love Doctor, you got a chance to win every night,” Cassell said this weekend. “We haven’t had a power forward that can shoot the three ball and rebound the way he rebounds in a long time.”
One particular instance stands out. Cassell watched the Clippers game last season when Love hit the game-winning 3-pointer coming out of a timeout with no time left on the clock.
It was the type of circumstance—a 3-point attempt in a tie game involving a power forward—that you don’t see every day.
“They ran out for a last-second shot for Kevin Love to shoot a 3,” Cassell said. “That don’t happen.
“Charles Barkley could make a couple threes, but not pick and pop threes, run plays for him to make threes.”
Love seems to represent a rare brand of stretch-4 that can connect from outside and command attention when he’s on the perimeter, yet is still able to come inside and get the job done on the boards with an efficiency rarely matched in today’s game. That’s not common across any era. A big that has pulled down 12.2 boards per game over his five-year career usually doesn’t also hit 105 3-pointers in a season like he did a year ago.
In fact, according to Basketball-Reference.com, last year Love became the only player in NBA history to average more than 12.0 rebounds per game and hit 100 3-pointers in the same season.
He’s a guy who can pick-and-pop from the outside or move to the 5 if need be on the interior. That’s one of the big reasons why he made an impact with Team USA during the summer in helping the U.S. earn a Gold Medal, and it’s why his All-Star teammates on that squad were awfully happy to have him on board.
“Toughness,” Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony said. “And a big guy who can spread the court, who can shoot. One of the best rebounders of our time that I’ve ever seen.”
Robert Horry won seven championships in the NBA playing both the 3 and the 4, and he was known for his big-shot heroics—many of which came from 3-point range. This weekend in Houston, he said the stretch-4 style of play initiated in the 1990s when guys like Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc were able to step outside and open up lanes for guys like Michael Jordan. It wasn’t as “sexy” to play that way until that time period; teams often favored bruising interior play. But the game has evolved and there is a lot more emphasis on the perimeter—whether it’s dribble penetration or connecting from deep—than there was in previous NBA eras.
Love is that rare connection between those two eras—being able to hold his own underneath the basket while also being a threat from outside. For that reason, he has Horry’s admiration.
“We have this debate all the time, who is the best power forward in the league?” Horry said. “I go with Kevin Love every time. That’s just my opinion…I just love the way he plays. He can go out there and get you 20 and 20 every night. He can stretch the defense. He can get you rebounds. There isn’t too much he can’t do, except for maybe putting it on the floor and bringing it up full court.”
Something that stood out for Horry and some of the current NBA All-Stars about Love is the way he approaches the game. He’s always looking to learn, refine his game and become better.
That was another thing that stood out to his Team USA teammates.
“I told Kevin Love that I appreciate the way he plays the game,” Heat forward LeBron James said. “I love the way he plays. He goes out and gives it his all every single night and continues to get better. It’s unfortunate that he’s been hampered this year with injuries. He gave a huge boost in our Olympic run to Gold this summer.”
Rockets guard James Harden said he’s known Love since high school, and the two have grown up together in the league as well as competed side-by-side in London this summer. Simply put, he said Love does it all.
“Great guy to hang around on the court,” Harden said. “He’s definitely someone you want to have on your team.”
Love continues to rehab that broken right hand, and he said last week that while he isn’t able to do weight-bearing or basketball activities yet, his hand is feeling better after this surgery than it did after he broke his hand in October, and he’s hopeful to be back in the Wolves lineup by mid-March.
When he returns, the Wolves will again have a two-time All-Star who commands admiration from both current and former NBA standouts, a guy who can impact a game both inside and outside on the offensive end and a guy who blends eras of hard-nosed rebounding with stretch-4 capabilities.
“His shooting, his entire post-game. He’s a phenomenal player,” Harden said. “He’s had a couple setbacks, but he’ll definitely bounce back strong.”