Souhan: Is Love or Garnett the Wolves' best ever? It's still early

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 5, 2014 - 6:08 AM
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Wolves forward Kevin Love has come a long way from his rookie season.

With step-back threes, running bank shots, post-up spins and step-throughs, and the occasional baby hook, Kevin Love has prompted an impertinent question about our local basketball franchise:

Is He Who May Leave Devastation in His Wake challenging He Who Left Devastation in His Wake in the sparsely populated competition to become the best player in Wolves history?

Kevin Love has never been better than he is right now, and he keeps hinting, with his ever-increasing array of offensive moves and startling performances, that one of the most dramatic transformations we’ve ever seen in a local athlete is not complete.

With another remarkable month, Love has closed the gap on Kevin Garnett.

Has KLove caught KG?

• The two best decisions Kevin McHale ever made are similar in terms of surpassing expectations.

Love was the fifth pick in the 2008 draft, when Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley were the two supposed stars. The Wolves drafted O.J. Mayo third and traded him in a multiplayer deal to the Grizzlies for Love, causing Wolves fans and at least one member of the front office to rage against another apparent draft-day mistake.

Garnett was the fifth pick in a weak 1995 draft that saw Joe Smith go first and Bryant Reeves go sixth. He was a risk at a time when NBA teams were wary of selecting high school players.

• They’re virtual opposites in style.

Love has developed an array of offensive moves and shots that is remindful of his idol, Larry Bird. He’s averaging 26.6 points and 13.2 rebounds this season, while improving his passing and defense.

Garnett was a dominant defender. In his best season he averaged 24.2 points and 13.9 rebounds. Garnett was the more productive passer.

Garnett gets the edge on the defensive end, but he lacked Love’s offensive creativity. When Garnett took a big shot, he usually opted for a fadeaway jumper, a difficult shot that erased the chances of him drawing a foul. When Love takes a big shot, he usually squares up for a three-pointer or creates contact in an attempt to get three the old-fashioned way.

• Garnett was and Love will be a perennial All-Star.

Garnett won one MVP award in 2003-04 and another defensive player of the year award. Love, competing with LeBron James and Kevin Durant, might never win the former and certainly won’t win the latter.

• Both excelled because of work ethic.

Garnett’s competitiveness drove the franchise. He was relentless in games and practices and he developed from a raw player into a superstar.

Love’s persona doesn’t dominate the court or the franchise the way Garnett’s did, and he doesn’t seem to command the fear or respect from his teammates that Garnett did, but he has transformed himself from a rookie who didn’t shoot three-pointers and couldn’t finish near the rim into a brilliant player.

• Their on-court personas are dramatically different.

If you sat courtside, you would hear a torrent of profanity from Garnett, and you would see Love constantly complaining to referees — understandable, since he might be the best player in the NBA who doesn’t seem to get the benefit of the doubt on borderline calls.

• The most difficult aspect of this comparison is judging how their teams have fared with them as leaders.

Garnett took a good team to the conference finals and kept lousy teams competitive through sheer will. Love has never played on a winning NBA team, in part because the Wolves traded Garnett for little value and then hired the Master of Disaster, David Kahn.

The verdict:

At 25, Love has already become a far more versatile and polished offensive player than Garnett ever was, even though Garnett, in his prime, managed to score 22 to 24 points a game.

Love will never match Garnett’s defensive skill or intensity, nor should he, because the Wolves can’t afford to have him in foul trouble.

In 12 seasons with the Wolves, Garnett averaged 20.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. In five-plus seasons with the Wolves, Love is averaging 18.9 and 12.3, while promising to improve those totals.

Has the latter Kevin Franchise caught the former Kevin Franchise?

Not yet. Garnett was too dominant for too long to be replaced by someone in the midst of only his third season of excellence.

If Love decided to stay with the Wolves through another contract, and kept improving his offensive repertoire, he would eventually surpass Garnett to become the best scorer and rebounder, and perhaps the best player, in franchise history.

To ignore that possibility is to ignore Love’s progression from pudgy, one-dimensional rookie to NBA superstar, a progression that has never been more evident than in the last month.

 

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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