Souhan: How good is Love? Let us count the ways

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 21, 2012 - 6:45 AM

On numbers alone, he's the NBA's best power forward. Factor in drive, fearlessness and grit, he's so much more.

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Kevin Love's intensity and productivity have been mainstays for the Timberwolves.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Even as key teammates fall to injuries and his team lags in the playoff race, Kevin Love is prompting the kinds of questions we haven't asked about a Timberwolf since Kevin Garnett's "Da Kid" nickname still sounded age-appropriate. ¶ Monday night, Love produced 36 points and 17 rebounds. That performance, in the Wolves' 97-93 victory at Golden State, gave him eight games with 30 points and 15 rebounds. No one else in the NBA this season has produced more than one.

He leads all NBA scorers in March with 30.3 points per game. He's averaging 25.9 points and 13.7 rebounds a game. Only 13 NBA players have averaged 25 and 13 over a full season, and all of them either are in or on their way to the Hall of Fame.

In a recent interview, Love told me he idolized Larry Bird. With Love ranking fourth in the NBA in scoring and second in rebounding, and having established that he intends to improve his game every summer, his presence in the same sentence as Bird should not be shocking.

Nor should any of these questions:

• Is Love Minnesota's best athlete?

Joe Mauer has fallen from this pedestal. Justin Morneau has a long road back. Adrian Peterson is recovering from knee surgery. Jared Allen is an elite pass rusher nearing the end of his career.

Love gets the nod over Allen because pass-rushers make their reputations on a couple of dozen plays a year, while a go-to basketball player must make dozens of plays a game.

• Is Love the best player in franchise history?

Love is proving this season that he's better with the game on the line than Garnett was, because Love is eager to take big shots, and willing to draw contact and get to the foul line in crunch time. Love produces gaudier statistics than Garnett, and has improved his defense and passing this season under Rick Adelman.

But Garnett's body of work can't be overcome by a couple of gaudy statistical seasons. Garnett's defense and all-around game elevated lots of mediocre teammates and teams to the playoffs. So, at the moment, Love still has work to do to match Garnett.

• Is Love the best power forward in the game?

He's better than Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge. If Dirk Nowitzki is considered a power forward, he has a clear advantage in terms of career achievement, but at the moment? Love is, indeed, the best power forward in the game.

• Is Love worthy of a comparison with Bird?

Love doesn't think so.

"Larry won a lot of championships," Love said in an interview conducted before Ricky Rubio was injured. "He won ... Larry is in a completely different stratosphere, a completely different level. When I think of greatness, I think of Larry Legend."

Even if the comparison is premature, Love still draws motivation from his earliest memories of watching basketball.

"That was my favorite player growing up," he said. "Every time I stepped outside, I wanted to be like Larry. My Dad always thought I wanted to be like him, but I always wanted to be like No. 33.

"I learned basketball watching Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Danny Ainge, Dennis Johnson, Bill Walton. Those groups are what stick out in my mind when I think of greatness and what I wanted to become when I was a little kid."

Plenty of great athletes fail to win titles.

"Sure, but I've grown up winning,'' Love said. "And the last three years ... well, you've been here. You've seen it. We haven't won. This year has been so much more fun and it feels like the work has paid off for all of us, for the guys who have been here for two or three years. It feels completely different here."

Love might not be able to meet his own standards this season. Without Rubio, the Wolves' roster remains as shallow and unreliable as a Kardashian.

Love, though, has proved himself. He's the best power forward in the game, the best athlete going in our towns, and he speaks as if his work has only begun.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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