Love's Numbers, Leadership Lead To Player Of Week Nod

Love's Numbers, Leadership Lead To Player Of Week Nod

A Wolves fan presents a Kevin Love sign during Minnesota's road game in New York on Sunday. (Photo credit: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

If there’s an unofficial barometer in the NBA, it’s how well you perform under pressure, on the road, on the big stage. And let’s throw Spike Lee in there, too—if you perform well enough to get on Spike Lee’s radar at Madison Square Garden, you’re doing something right.

Kevin Love, you’re doing something right.

There were a few picture-perfect moments that took place during Love’s first-ever Western Conference Player of the Week nod to start the 2013-14 season—one of them was, of course, the game-tying 3-pointer with 10 seconds left on opening night that sent the Wolves and Magic into overtime. That one was punctuated by Love’s celebration, hands in the air like he scored a touchdown, motioning to the fans to make some noise (kind of like Love’s buzzer-beater in L.A. circa 2012).

But the moment that sticks out from his first week of play—during which Love averaged 29.7 points and 14.7 boards while leading the Wolves to a 3-0 record between Oct. 29 and Nov. 3—was his circus shot late in the fourth against the Knicks in a 109-100 win on Sunday.

That moment, when he brushed off Carmelo Anthony, ducked Pablo Prigioni and hit an off-balance bank shot to put the Wolves up eight with 3 minutes to play, was perfect. Love hits a shot no one has any business making, then turns to Spike Lee and gives him a high-five as he runs down the court.

The NBA rewarded Love for his efforts a day later.

“They told me on the bus [on Tuesday],” Love said. “I had no idea. It’s cool, actually I was a little surprised I’d never won it before, but I’d just take a 3-0 start over any of that. Big thanks to my teammates and coaches.”

Love has a look in his eye this season. It’s partial redemption from missing so much time to injury last year, partial hunger to help take this talented and balanced team to the next level. Love is still looking for that first playoff berth, and after two years of injuries hobbled the Wolves’ heightened expectations, this is the year Minnesota expects to turn the corner. This is the year they make the next step into the postseason.

It starts with Love. He’s the centerpiece of this team, and when he’s flanked with fellow cornerstones Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic, the Wolves come to life. Adding in wing scoring from Kevin Martin and the energy and defense of Corey Brewer, and the Wolves suddenly have a starting five that helped the team leap into the top six in most national NBA power rankings after Week 1.

This first week was a testament that showcases just how much he can impact a game and why many players, former players and current coaches around the league identify him as the top power forward in the game. He crashes the boards with just the right technique and innate positioning that opposing teams have a hard time stopping the inevitable. He stretches the floor with his 3-point threat, but he’s more than capable of working down low. And as evidenced by that circus shot before the Lee high-five, there aren’t many shots he isn’t capable of sinking.

But the one part of Love’s game that is really starting to come to life this year is his passing. He said he was challenged by the coaching staff to increase the way he facilitates the ball, and he’s done it so far this year. Love is finding teammates like Brewer in transition with those long outlet passes—the ones players and onlookers alike have raved about since his high school days. He’s joining in the mix of getting the Wolves off and running, and it’s helping keep the tempo in the Wolves’ favor.

In the half court, he’s doing the same thing. Love is helping move the ball—even when he’s got a look on the perimeter. He’s finding guys like Pekovic down low who has a mismatch or a higher percentage look. Through four games, Love is averaging 4.0 assists per night.

“He’s been doing a lot of good things for us,” Adelman said. “He’s been giving the ball up on the offensive end. He’s been rebounding. He’s played very well.”

He's even finishing on the fast break early on this season—something you haven't seen out of Love in the past. But hey—Love is always trying to add something to his game. Why not add a little transition scoring? Nothing really surprises his teammates—he has the ability to impact the game in a lot of ways.

“Kevin’s Kevin,” Derrick Williams said. Enough said.

Getting this type of productivity out of Love makes the Wolves an intriguing team to follow this season. He’s always put up the numbers, but his leadership is continuing to evolve as he goes. When the Wolves’ 17-point lead evaporated last Wednesday against Orlando—the Magic eventually led by 3 with 10 seconds left—Love didn’t panic. He told his team they’d win the game, and they did. He told Kevin Martin he’d have another shot in overtime, and he did.

That stuff makes a difference. Martin said he couldn’t let him down.

“I think we all agree he’s already a star,” Martin said. “He’s just hungry this year and wants to get that playoff experience for the first time, and he’s played big for us…can’t put it in words, but we’re gonna expect that out of him every night.”

Love has had Player of the Week-worthy stretches before, but his play this week combined with the team’s success was undeniable. When Love dropped his 31-point/31-rebound game against the Knicks in 2010, the Wolves were in the midst of losing eight of 10. When Love averaged 30.7 points and 13.9 rebounds in March 2012—a stretch of play during the course of one month only rivaled by Shaquille O’Neal during the past 15 years—the Wolves went 7-10. Despite three 40-point efforts and a 51-point outburst at OKC during that month, Love didn’t receive Player of the Week in any of those instances.

But this time, with the balanced Wolves pulling out victories and generating buzz around the league, Love was selected. His play is helping bring the team to the next level, and that’s something the Wolves will depend on throughout the season.

Love, focused on bigger things, seems up to the challenge.

“It’s not really about [the stats],” Love said. “It’s about how this team has shown out the first few games here. I just want to keep it rolling.”

For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mark Remme on Twitter.