Souhan: Love is among the NBA's best; enjoy it now

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 14, 2014 - 10:54 PM

This Jim Souhan column ran on Nov. 13, 2013:

For years, the Timberwolves tried to lure fans to Target Center by touting appearances by the best players in the NBA.

Tonight, they can do that again.

Only this time, the guy they’ll be touting will be one of their own.

The following sentence no longer requires a qualifier:

Kevin Love is one of the best players in the NBA.

Not one of the best players who hasn’t made the playoffs. Not one of the best white guys. Not one of the best accumulators of numbers, or best bearded power forwards, or best example of the benefits of rapid weight loss, or the best player ever to see through David Kahn.

Love is simply one of the best players in a league loaded with great players.

The numbers prove that.

Love ranks second in the league in scoring, first in rebounding, and tied for 24th in assists. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) ranks him second in the league.

The eyes reveal that.

Love is playing beautiful basketball in a beautiful offensive system. He has taken the game that made him an Olympic gold medalist and rising star and added intuitive passing, defensive intensity, full-court hustle and on-court leadership. His court-length, wrist-flick outlet passing has become the most unique offensive weapon in the NBA.

The results bolster that.

On a team that has already lost two rotation players to injury, that has gotten no help out of the last draft, that has been sorely disappointed by the performances of Nikola Pekovic, Derrick Williams, Alexy Shved and the shooting of Ricky Rubio, the Timberwolves are 5-3, having whipped Oklahoma City and the Lakers, and having lost two close road games on the second night of back-to-backs, including Monday night in Los Angeles against the wondrously talented Clippers.

Love’s last-second tip rimmed out, or the Wolves might have even won that one.

He’s averaging 26.4 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. He’s never before averaged more than 2.5 assists per game in a season.

For the first time in his career he’s making his teammates better, and the primary beneficiary has been new shooting guard Kevin Martin, averaging 24.6 points (tying his career best, set in 2008-2009) on a career-high 17.1 shots per game.

Martin is proof that Love is making the game easier for his teammates and doing the hard work himself. Martin is scoring mostly on open three-pointers and on cuts to the basket, where Love and Rubio hit him in stride.

Because Love has become a great player and potential MVP, and because Kahn failed to sign him to the longest possible contract, and because NBA stars frequently force their way to the destinations of their choice, Love frequently will be rumored to be considering playing in New York or Los Angeles.

Los Angeles, because of his Southern California ties. New York, because every potential free agent either wants to play in New York or use New York as negotiating leverage.

Because Love is one of those athletes who seems to need negative inspiration to play his best, he might not become the Twin Cities’ next Kirby Puckett, a player who inspired fondness.

Love’s contract with the Wolves runs through the end of the 2014-2015 season. Minnesota sports fans live in paranoia of losing their best players to bigger markets.

For the next two years, we would all be wise to ignore the rumors and even intelligent speculation. Every great player is rumored to be a future Laker. That’s the way the NBA works, and that’s the way NBA reporters think.

The Wolves traded O.J. Mayo for Love on draft night, 2008. Even those who admired Love’s game never thought he would become a great player.

He has, and his new status will allow him to play just about anywhere he wants in two years.

Minnesotans should do themselves a favor. For this season, if only this season, appreciate the skills of one of the best players in basketball. Let the speculation wait. Today and for the near future the Wolves employ a star. Enjoy it while you can.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays

at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is

@SouhanStrib.

jsouhan@startribune.com

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