Lately there have been questions, polite suggestions, and even a few bold assertions that Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love belongs in the MVP discussion. Sports Illustrated’s Zach Lowe was so impressed with Kevin Love’s weekend (51 points at Oklahoma City on Friday night followed by a 30 point, 21 rebound performance during Sunday’s matinee) that he asked (via Twitter) the following question: “Why is Kevin Durant a better MVP candidate than Kevin Love?”
Zach Lowe is one of the best NBA writers out there, and even he seems to at least be intrigued by Love’s MVP prospects. Such speculation leaves most fans in Minnesota (and other NBA fans around the country) wondering – can Kevin Love could really win the NBA Most Valuable Player trophy this season? I’d like to take a second of your time to answer this question as succinctly as I can:
Allow me to explain myself.
The mental exercise all serious sports fans and pundits go through every awards season about “What the MVP really means”, or arguments about whether the award is for “the best player, or the player most valuable to his team” is one that never seems to get settled. “Value” can mean different things to different people, depending on who you think ought to win the trophy. If by “value”, you mean, “the player whose subtraction would spell the most doom for his team”, Love is probably a good candidate. If by “value” you mean, “the best player in the NBA”, Love isn’t your guy.
It’s hard for me to be unbiased when discussing Love – I believe he’s been nothing short of a revelation this season. He lost weight, improved his outside shooting and still rebounds at a high rate. Without the presence of Kevin Love, it’s fair to wonder if Ricky Rubio would’ve even come to play in the U.S. at all. Since he did, and since we got a glimpse of the future before Rubio was injured, there is reason for Minnesota basketball fans reason to have some hope. Without Love, the Timberwolves would be jockeying for position in the Draft Lottery with Charlotte, Washington and New Orleans. But that doesn’t make him the MVP.
Statistics aren’t the issue either - Love is averaging 26.0 points, 13.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, all while shooting 45.5% from the field, 81% from the free throw line and 37.8% from beyond the arc. He’s 4th in scoring and 2nd in rebounding. The only players listed at Power Forward or Center in the NBA shooting better from deep are Matt Bonner (Spurs role-player) and Ryan Anderson (Magic three point specialist). Love is fifth in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating (a complicated, QB Rating-esque stat) behind James, Wade, Durant and Chris Paul. Statistically, he’s done everything an MVP caliber player is asked to do, except for one thing…
…Winning enough games. When it comes to winning the MVP award, the pattern is clear – the player who had the best season on one of the best teams wins. The past ten MVP award winners all played for teams with winning percentages above .658; as of Monday, Love’s Timberwolves are three games under .500 (24-27). Maybe the NBA ought to change the name of the award from Most Valuable Player to Most Outstanding Player to curtail all the ambiguity. But in terms of “value”, the NBA seems to place a high emphasis on regular season victories over any stories of “improvement” or “importance to a franchise”.
After all, this is the league that gave its 1961-62 MVP not to the man who averaged a triple double (Oscar Robertson), nor to the man who averaged 50 points and 25 rebounds (Wilt Chamberlain), but to Bill Russell. Not even a transcendent statistical season will earn you a Most Valuable Player award – and while Love’s season has been special, it’s nowhere near transcendent.
The rationale displayed in the 1962 vote is as old as the game itself - even if it hasn’t always been expressly stated. Basketball is about wins and losses, not individual numbers. Basketball is the sport in which one dominant player can carry a team to many more victories than he ought to. Points, rebounds, and assists are nice counting stats, but aren’t iron-clad indicators of the best players. In this sense, the MVP vote is very subjective – numbers can get you in the neighborhood of the MVP, but can’t get you in the house.
With the rapid improvements Love has made to his game, plus the addition of Ricky Rubio (who will hopefully return at 100%) to the Timberwolves, the time is coming for Kevin Love. He has a respected coach (Rick Adelman), an emerging front court partner (Nikola Pekovic), some talented role players (Luke Ridnour, Martell Webster and Derrick Williams) and a General Manager (David Kahn) who appears to have figured out what he’s doing. Kevin Love’s stock is trending upward – he’s gone from a doughy, undersized big man to a dynamic offensive and rebounding force in just four seasons. He’s 23 years old.
Will he be the NBA MVP this year? No.
Will he win an NBA MVP at some point in the future? Let me answer this as succinctly as I can.
BreakTheHuddle is a weekly contributor to The Daily Shootout. Check him out at www.breakthehuddle.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter @BreakTheHuddle
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