Love's Offseason Preparation Led To All-NBA Second Team Selection
There were moments during the 2011-12 season when Kevin Love appeared to be treating the NBA like his own personal playground. The statistical campaign he put together from December to mid-April made fans awestruck by his consistency while simultaneously coming to expect those numbers on a nightly basis.
He could, at times, do it all.
It’s a fitting description, perhaps, for a player who continues to find new ways to stretch his limits. Over the course of a calendar year Love has transformed from the league’s Most Improved Player into one of its elite producers. He’s morphed from being known simply for his innate rebounding ability into a dual threat on the offensive end—a scorer who can produce in the paint and from the perimeter.
Over the course of one year he lost 25 pounds, became a no-brainer All-Star selection, developed into what some call the NBA’s best power forward and established himself as one of the league’s top producers statistically and when the game is on the line.
As a result, Love was selected to the All-NBA Second Team on Thursday—joining Kevin Garnett and Sam Cassell as the only three Wolves players to receive All-NBA honors in franchise history.
“He’s had an unbelievable season. He’s now at the point where he’s arguably the best power forward in the game,” guard Wayne Ellington said. “That’s amazing. I was out there during that whole overtime when he got that 51 [points]. When he hit that 3 in L.A. to beat the Clippers, that’s the kind of stuff I’ll remember about this season.”
When he arrived at camp, Love made his teammates do a double-take at his physique. Through rigorous basketball workouts with fellow All-Stars and a strict yoga, conditioning and eating regimen, Love propelled himself to a new level of fitness—one that helped him play nearly 40 minutes per game and force opposing players and coaches to marvel at his productivity.
The league as a whole watched as Love and his team made strides most didn’t see coming.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said in February that Love is having as big of an impact year on his team as anyone in the NBA. Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki called his play dominant, Bulls forward Luol Deng said his knack for rebounding is unbelievable and Magic forward Ryan Anderson said he’s expanded his game on so many levels that it makes him that much harder to guard.
On any given night, Love padded the box score and seemed to help the team in whichever facet of the game the Wolves needed.
Love collected at least 20 points and 12 rebounds in each of the Wolves’ first 12 games, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 as the only two NBA players to do so.
On Jan. 20 in Los Angeles, Love stole the show and capped a memorable comeback on national television against the Clippers. With the game tied at 98-98, Love took an inbound pass and drained a 28-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer. A month later, he sank two free throws with less than a second left on the clock to beat the 76ers at Target Center 92-91.
Then came March, a torrid stretch in which he scored 491 points and collected 222 rebounds. He joined Shaquille O’Neal and Patrick Ewing as the only players in the past 20 years to score 450 points and pull down 200 boards in a single month, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
He did it in unstoppable fashion.
Love scored 40 or more points three times in March—dropping 42 points on the Trail Blazers on March 3, 40 on the Bobcats on March 28 and setting a new Timberwolves single-game record of 51 points on March 23 against the Thunder in Oklahoma City. He hit a career-best seven 3-pointers in that game, including one at the buzzer that sent the game into overtime. Minnesota eventually lost the game 149-140 in double OT.
Still, Love produced the single greatest scoring game in team history against a Thunder squad who had the best record in the Western Conference. He shot 16-of-27 from the field, including 7-of-11 from beyond the arc, and collected 14 rebounds in 49 minutes of play.
“I think it surprised me scoring-wise how much he grew,” coach Rick Adelman said. “Again, the style we were playing gave him a lot of freedom to do a lot of things. But night after night he kept doing it. I was putting him out there 40 minutes a game. I was a little surprised by how many points he scored, but I knew what kind of player he was. I knew the type of potential he had.”
Love finished the season fourth in the NBA with 26.0 points per game, second with 13.3 rebounds per game, first with 48 double-doubles and second with 39.0 minutes per game.
He had 30 or more points 19 times this year, and three of his four career 40-point games came during the month of March. He produced three 20-plus rebounding performances and had 15 or more boards in a game 22 different times.
“I had one game where I had like 20 rebounds, and I worked so hard in that game,” Deng said over All-Star Weekend. “I remember I was so exhausted. I’m just like, this is crazy. And he’s doing it pretty much every night. To me, that’s crazy.”
Love, who said working out is one of his favorite pastimes, said the amount of work he put in during the offseason after winning the 2011 Most Improved Player Award helped set the table for his monster 2011-12 campaign. Not only was his body able to handle the shortened season, but his new physique allowed him better mobility, leaping ability and overall fitness.
It also helped his game mentally.
“There were a couple games there where I was slumping, but I knew I was very confident in my game,” Love said. “I knew that all the work I put in the offseason has helped me be confident. Everywhere I’ve been on the floor and I’ve been able to pick my spots last year, but now I’m having a lot of success from those spots.”