Love, Brunson Share Unique Rebounding Connection

Photo credit: David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images

No one spends more hours watching Minnesota’s professional basketball teams than Jim Petersen. As the Timberwolves’ color analyst for Fox Sports North and an assistant coach for the Lynx, Petersen is present for almost every game each team plays, then spends more time away from the arena watching game film to prepare either team’s next outing.

A former NBA player himself, Petersen dissects the game play-by-play with great detail. He knows the character traits necessary to be elite in certain categories, such as rebounding, and is able to identify those characteristics within today’s current players. Between the Lynx and the Timberwolves, Petersen sees two of the game’s best on the boards 12 months out of the year.

Kevin Love and Rebekkah Brunson share more than a work address at 600 First Avenue North. The Wolves’ and Lynx’s All-Star power forwards are made from the same mold. They’re the anchors of their respective team’s front court, the type of rebounder who is always in the right place at the right time and has the perfect blend of elite rebounding characteristics: A willingness to go after every shot, a mental commitment to battle for any potential loose ball and an innate sense of which angle the ball’s trajectory will go.

“As an opponent you hate playing against guys and gals like Kevin Love and Rebekkah Brunson,” Petersen said. “They go every time. It just wears you down mentally.”

Aside from the newly-formed combination of Dwight Howard and Candace Parker with the Los Angeles Lakers and Sparks, you’d be hard-pressed to find an NBA-WNBA duo with a flair for rebounding like Minnesota’s Love and Brunson. It’s a pair who works in different ways, but the parallels are striking and the results—particularly on the stats sheet—are remarkably similar.

There are no surprises anymore with Love. Gone are the days when the former lottery pick flew under the radar in Minnesota, failing to receive national notoriety for his skills because of the team’s record. In 2011-12 Love became the focal point of an up-and-coming team, a player who commanded the opposition's attention because not only did he pull down 12.0 rebounds per game and lead the league with 48 double-doubles, he also was fourth in the NBA with 26.0 points per game.

Among NBA peers and coaches, last season he catapulted himself into the conversation of the best power forwards in the game. Then, this summer, he did the same thing on an international stage while helping Team USA win a Gold Medal.

On the WNBA side, Brunson is doing the same thing for the Lynx.

She’s fourth in the league in double-doubles and is averaging 12.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per night. During a stretch between Aug. 21 and Aug. 31, she recorded four straight double-doubles, averaged 19.2 points and 14.5 rebounds per night and set a Lynx franchise-record with 20 boards on Aug. 28 against San Antonio.

During the team’s six games in Augusts after the Olympic Break, Brunson pulled down 30 offensive rebounds. And on Friday night as the Lynx overcame a 25-point deficit to beat Atlanta 97-93 in double-overtime, Brunson pulled down 18 boards—10 of them offensive—while contributing 15 points.

Since returning to Minneapolis last month, Wolves player development coach Shawn Respert has taken in a significant amount of Lynx action, both in games and during overlapping workout sessions at the LifeTime Fitness Training Center. He said the rebounding gene is rare but it does not discriminate by gender, and both Love and Brunson have it.

“There’s a true science to it. When I say put it together, they mark the highest probability of where this rebound is going to come off,” Respert said. “To me, Rebekkah has all those things. Forget you’re watching a WNBA player. She possesses all those mental or physical skills that in any league a basketball player has to have to be a great rebounder.”

How they get it done varies a bit. For Petersen, Love’s rebounding is just as much will and desire as anything. Love knows exactly where the ball is going to land based on where the shot was taken, then does much of his rebounding below the rim. He puts himself in the right position and out-works his opponents every single possession.

Brunson is successful on the glass because of her athleticism. She’s vicious in the paint—nicknamed both “The Machine” and “Sparticus” by her Lynx teammates—and is able to out-jump her WNBA counterparts. She, like Love, has an unwillingness to be boxed out and has a good sense of when to attack the basket for second-chance points, Petersen said.

“That’s the key, and Kevin Love has it, too,” Petersen said. “Kevin has gotten really good at deciding when to put it back. He’s gotten better at putting it back at a higher rate.”

Petersen said defensive rebounding depends a great deal on positioning, while offensive boards are earned from heart and desire. All three are underlying ingredients for what make Love and Brunson elite in their respective leagues.

Not only can they attack and score near the rim, but the two also possess a balanced offensive attack. Brunson is a mid-range threat from anywhere inside the arc, while Love’s scouting report heavily details his strong 3-point shooting ability. He shot 37.2 percent from distance last year and showcased his skills over All-Star weekend by winning the Foot Locker 3-Point Contest.

 

Between the two, Love and Brunson have five All-Star appearances and counting.

Timberwolves and Lynx fans alike see these two athletes up close at Target Center during their respective seasons, noting the similarities both bring to their teams statistically and in the Xs and Os. The number of extra possessions Love and Brunson create for their teams alone make them invaluable. Petersen said had Brunson—who was a finalist—been selected to the U.S. Women’s Basketball Team this summer, playing on the international stage along with Love would have raised more parallels globally about their similar skill set.

Respert agreed. Other parts of a basketball game like scoring numbers and flashy assists tend to get glamorized more frequently, but extending possessions, hauling in rebounds and controlling the paint are three pivotal parts of success. With Love and Brunson, both the Timberwolves and Lynx hold a distinct advantage in those areas.

“You identify them as great rebounders; you’re going to probably put a person and designate them to keep Kevin, keep Rebekkah off the boards,” Respert said. “But still they find ways to get touches on the ball, to get tips on balls, to chase down balls. To me, that’s what makes them good. You know what they’re going to do, you prepare to stop them but they still continue to impact the game in ways you’re trying to defend.”


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