Breakout season makes Love an award candidate

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 8, 2011 - 11:30 PM

Even if he shuts it down for the season, his body of work puts him on the short list for NBA Most Improved.

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While racking up a string of double-doubles, Wolves forward Kevin Love also raised his scoring, shooting and rebounding numbers.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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We might have seen the last of Kevin Love on the court this spring. But Love might not be done being honored for his breakout season.

Love, who has a strained groin, has missed six of the past eight games. Neither he nor center Darko Milicic (ankle) practiced Friday. Both traveled with the team to Denver, but both are listed as doubtful for the game Saturday against the Nuggets.

After talking with Love, it sounded as though he's unlikely to play.

"I don't think, as of right now, I could play," he said about playing Saturday. "I don't think I'll play. Unless something happens miraculously, it heals up, I won't be playing."

Love also said that if he doesn't play in Denver he would think seriously about not playing in the final two games as well.

"We've been working every day, still keeping in shape, on the bike, lifting weights," he said. "But it's just tough right now. I won't want to do anything to reaggravate it."

So Love might have put the final touches on his third season, and on his application for the NBA's Most Improved Player award. In 73 games, Love has averaged 20.2 points and 15.2 rebounds. He is a 47 percent shooter overall, 41.7 percent on three-pointers.

His outside shooting combined with his rebounding make him one of the league's unique players. There are other strong candidates for the award -- Derrick Rose, LaMarcus Aldridge, Russell Westbrook, Dorell Wright, Kris Humphries and Kyle Lowry should be in the mix. But Love deserves to be in that conversation. He has increased his scoring by 6.2 points per game over the 2009-10 season (sixth-best improvement in the league), increased his rebounding by 4.4 per game (second-biggest improvement) and improved his three-point shooting by 8.9 percent (seventh-biggest improvement).

"He made dramatic improvement, not only in rebounding but his development in his back-to-the-basket game," Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said. "And his facing-the-basket game."

Love worked hard over the offseason to improve, particularly his three-point shooting, which Rambis called Love's biggest achievement.

Love, though, is ambivalent about the Most Improved Player award. To him, it would suggest that his 2009-10 season wasn't very good.

"I thought I was a pretty good player before," he said. "But I feel I have improved a lot this year. I definitely put in the work and effort to get better, and I'm going to continue to do that.

Both Love and Rambis agreed that Love's No. 1 priority for improvement this summer will be on defense. Love said he plans on extensive 1-on-1 workouts against opponents of varying size to help him in that area.

Theus interviews

Wolves assistant Reggie Theus has had a long week.

There were back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday he flew to Las Vegas for a 5 1/2-hour interview for the coaching vacancy at UNLV. He took the red-eye back to the Twin Cities so he could be at practice Friday.

Many reports have Theus, along with BYU associate head coach Dave Rice, St. John's assistant Mike Dunlap and former Oregon and St. Mary's coach Ernie Kent as frontrunners for the job. UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood hopes to make a decision by Sunday.

"I thought it was a very solid, in-depth interview," Theus said. "Everybody wants to have an opportunity to try to coach your alma mater. Actually, when I first started coaching, I only had one job in mind, and that was UNLV."

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