Sheridan: Kevin Love for MVP? It’s a valid argument

Over to your right is a poll we are running, asking our readers to vote for who they believe is the most worthy MVP candidate at this point of the season.

I have already cast my vote, choosing “other.”

Forgive me for not genuflecting to the superstars on that list: LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. They are all worthy candidates — there is no arguing that.

But none of them has turned around his team the way Kevin Love has for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were expected to be such a basket case that the NBA front office insisted upon their “lottery” pick — which was owned by the Los Angles Clippers from Kevin McHale’s ill-fated trade of Sam Cassell and a future No. 1 trade for the immortal Marko Jaric — being included in the heist that sent Chris Paul to the Clippers after David Stern voided the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade on the day the lockout was settled.

I happen to believe the T-Wolves are headed to the playoffs, which is one of the reasons why I have been consistently ranking them above teams with better records in my weekly Sunday Power Rankings. I believe this because I watch them nearly every night they play, in part because I am mesmerized by watching how Ricky Rubio’s game has blossomed as he has transitioned from the ACB to the NBA, and partly because I continue to be astounded by the numbers Love is putting up on such a consistent basis.

Question: Who has the most 30-point games in the NBA this season?

You answered LeBron James, right? He has 13, and that is indeed the most. But if you are a Heat fan, do you want the ball in his hands at the end of the fourth quarter in a tight game? If he is the runaway MVP, as many people believe, than of course you do. But if you look at his body of work  in those types of situations, it gives you pause. And if it is giving you pause, he ain’t the runaway MVP many are already declaring him to be.

Maybe you answered Kobe Bryant, who does lead the league in 40-point games ( he had four in a row in January, and he was on his way to another Monday night before Andre Iguodala shut him down). But his total is 10.

Durant, the two-time defending scoring champion, also had 10. And Rose, the defending MVP, has six.

Love? He has seven 30-point games, another 13 in which he has been in the 20s, and a mere four in which he has been in the teens.

The Timberwolves had played 24 games before Love last night began sitting sat out a two-game suspension for stomping on Luis Scola’s head, and he failed to reach double figures in rebounds in only one of them — January 30 against Houston when he was held to seven (perhaps that’s why he had it in for Scola). People tend to forget, but he had 53 consecutive double-doubles last season, the longest such streak in the NBA since Elvin Hayes did it 55 consecutive times for the Bullets in 1973-74.

Of the five guys mentioned above, how many are in the Top 10 in two statistical categories?

James is second in the league in scoring and sixth in field-goal percentage, so he qualifies.

Bryant is first in scoring but 66nd in field-goal percentage, 20th in assists, and 25th in free-throw percentage (he has taken 193 foul shots, second-most in the league behind, you guessed it, Kevin Love). His only other top five placement is in minutes played, where he is second (to Love again) with 38.2.

Durant’s team has the NBA’s best record, and there is no discounting that. His scoring is off only four-tenths of a point from last year, and his field-goal percentage is an astounding .504 — up from .462 last season and .476 the previous two seasons, the latter of which included a scoring average of 30.1. He is as worthy of a candidate as there is out there, which he has especially proven over the past two nights, but his team is doing what it was expected to do.

Rose is sixth in scoring and eighth in assists and has been brilliant every single second he has been out there (with the exception of a certain final minute meltdown from the free-throw line two Sundays ago in Miami). His assists are up one per game from a year ago, his rebounding and 3-point shooting numbers are virtually unchanged, and his team is doing exactly as expected — just like Durant’s.

Love? He is in the top five in both scoring (25.0) and rebounding (13.7). He also leads the league in minutes played (39.4), and he shoots .378 from 3-point range (he has made 42 of them) —  a percentage that is higher than those of Brandon Jennings, James Harden, Dorrell Wright, Kyke Lowry, Danny Granger, Kevin Martin, Andrea Bargnani, Jamal Crawford and Durant, to name only a few.

But those are just stats.

And at a certain point, you have to say “stats, schmats.”

The award is called Most Valuable Player, and the operative word there is valuable.

It is not a popularity contest. It is not a vote on who is the “best” player. It is not a reward for your team having the best record.

It is about value to your team, and that is always the determining factor when I cast my annual postseason awards vote.

“Oh, I totally agree with that,” coach Rick Adelman told SheridanHoops on the Wolves’ team plane after their 86-84 victory over Sacramento on Tuesday night. “And that’s your argument: Kevin has an unbelievable impact on our team. He’s scoring, he’s rebounding, and more attention is coming his way. This two-game suspension is kind of telling him where you’re at — everybody’s coming at you. And with the best players, that’s what happens.

“It (the MVP award) could be the player who puts up the numbers, but I think it’s the guy who has the biggest impact on your team and whether they can win. We’re competitive, and we’re trying to reach another level,” Adelman said.

When discussing Rose and James, their teams would be in the playoffs even if either player missed a significant portion of the season. With Durant, you can almost make the same argument. With Bryant, you can’t.

But in the case of Love, the Timberwolves would be Bobcat material without him — and you can’t say that about the Lakers or Thunder.

To hear more on the legitimacy of Love, click here. I discussed it Tuesday afternoon on 92.3 The Fan radio in Cleveland on the “Bull and Fox” show. (Extra teaser: The hosts were hating on LeBron).

Tuesday night’s win over Sacramento (without Love, who is serving a two-game suspension) improved the ‘Wolves to 10-5 against the West. If they could figure out how to defeat teams from the weaker conference (they are 3-8 against the East), there would be press releases coming out twice a week from the NBA office notifying the media that the Timberwolves have been added to the national television schedule.

As it is, the improved to 13-12 with the win against the Kings – the latest in a season they’ve been above .500 since January 2007 (20-19), and their best 25-game start since 2005-06 (13-12)

They have a brutal March schedule, but they are primed to stay in the postseason race for the rest of the season, they are the most entertaining team to watch (outside of the Clippers) in the entire Western Conference, they have re-energized a deflated fan base, and if they could learn how to win a few close games and get a little more respect from the refs, they’d be the NBA’s ‘it’ team right now.

The reason for all that is Love.

And that is why I voted “other” in the SheridanHoops.com MVP poll.

If you agree or disagree, that is your right.

So go ahead and make your voice heard in the poll right beneath this sentence.

Chris Sheridan is the founder and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear occasionally, and his Power Rankings are a fixture that run every Sunday at noon EST. Follow him on Twitter. and on Facebook.

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  1. Jevan says

    The Wolves get outscored by 3 points per 48 minutes with Kevin Love on the bench. At -3, they would not be the Bobcats (who are -13), they would be the Suns.

    The Wolves are -8 with Rubio on the bench btw…

  2. Christian Baber says

    Admittedly, I thought Love should have been given serious consideration for MVP last year as well. I considered it a battle between LeBron, Dwight, and Kevin. I also think wins are weighted way too heavily in this MVP race, seeing as the award is an individual accomplishment. But that’s me.

    • ignarus says

      can’t give dwight consideration when he’s actively tanking his team’s chemistry such that he’ll get traded for cents on the dollar.

      last year, absolutely, but not now.

  3. ignarus says

    1) “bad to decent” isn’t that hard to do.
    2) Rick Adelman’s signing was what gave Wolves fans hope for change over the summer.
    3) New additions of Rubio, Williams, and the surprising emergence of Pekovic undermine the narrative that Kevin Love’s improvement is what made “the difference.”
    4) Individually (outside of team context), Love’s play doesn’t outshine his MVP competitors.
    5) He’s a big man that’s much good at help D.
    6) Getting suspended for two games after stomping Scola and blaming it on his shoe size shows he’s clearly got some work to do in the intangibles/leadership department.

  4. Jim says

    The biggest change in the TWolves as a team this year is Rubio and not Love. If Love had this team playing this well last year I would agree with Love being the MVP, as they did not have much talent on the team. But the TWolves are closer to the playoffs this year because of Rubio. Take away all the players you mentioned from their perspective teams: Kobe, Rose, Lebron, and Durant and they all might go from 1-4 seeds to 7-8 seeds or out of the playoffs all together. Take away Love from last years TWolves team and they go from being 1 of the 5 worst teams to…..1 of the 5 worst teams.

    Maybe I am being unfair, as it took Rose getting better talent around him to become the MVP in year 3, but with Rubio being the biggest factor in the TWolves improvement Love cannot be MVP.

    • Mike Wiley says

      Where to start. Ricky is terrific, no question. But he is not the only change this season. Rick Adelman makes a big difference compared with Kurt Rambis too.

      Chris (and I) have watched most if not all the Wolves games. Believe me, while Ricky is the catalyst, Kevin Love is the explosive. He’s averaging 25 points and 14 rebounds per game.

      • Mike Wiley says

        And Love’s 3-point shooting percentage is higher than Durant and Rose, for example. That is quite a combination with his rebounding.

        • Jim says

          I agree that Rubio is not the only thing that has changed this year for the Wolves. But doesn’t take away from the argument that Love should be MVP?

          And I don’t think other NBA teams plan their defense around how to stop Love when they play the Wolves. Teams scheme their defense to stop Rose, Durant, Kobe, Lebron, and Dwight Howard.

          I’m not trying to diminish his status in the NBA, I think he is 1 of the 3 best power forwards (Griffin and Aldridge being the other two), but I don’t think he will ever be the best player on a NBA championship team.

          • Chris says

            Kevin Love is BY FAR the best power forward in the game. If Blake Griffin ever dreams about having Kevin Love’s complete fundamental package, he should wake up and apologize.

  5. Lars says

    The problem as I see it with choosing Love for MVP is his lack of shootcreating at the end of games he isent the kind of player we are used to see getting MVPs the one which we can give the ball to and say, “we need a bucket, supply it” and isent a MVP supposed to carry his team like that and the way the argument is used against Lebron could perfectly be used against Love aswell…

  6. Christian Baber says

    Hey Chris. While I absolutely agree that Love should be in the discussion for MVP, I disagree with your conclusion. Love is an excellent player and completely underrated. I just don’t think he is the MVP. I would like the award to recognize the best and most dominant player of any given year. LeBron somehow has become ineligable for the award since teaming up with Wade, and that is absurd. Right now, LeBron is fighting to complete the most impressive statistical season since blocks and steals began being recorded. He has a higher PER than Michael Jordan ever had? Wasn’t Jordan’s Bulls team a playoff team when he took a year off to play baseball? He played with fellow Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, and that didn’t preclude him from MVP honors. LeBron deserves the title this year. He honestly probably deserved it last year too. This is all reminiscent of when the league gave Jordan’s MVP to Karl Malone because the Bulls’ record had slipped and people were bored of Jordan. Of course, MJ was the rightful MVP and he proved it against Malone in the Finals. Also, this idea that LBJ is some kind of statue in the clutch is getting ridiculous. He has two fewer playoff gamewinners for his career than Kobe. He is annually in the top 5 in fourth quarter scoring in crunch time. This argument against LBJ may be true, but it seems unlikely that LeBron is actually poor in crunch time. Kevin Love is also still late on defensive rotations, which is probably more important than crunch time scoring anyhow. Meanwhile, LeBron is a great perimeter defender. He is scoring more than Durant and doing it more accurately while playing better defense. So Durant over LeBron is ridiculous as well. I cannot see any strong argument to put a candidate above LeBron this year. The award shouldn’t be solely stats-based, but it seems to be becoming a popularity contest. That’s how Rose won when he wasn’t even the best PG in the NBA last year. I don’t want to see another repeat of an offense like that.

    • Andrew says

      You said almost everything I wanted to say. I would add: the “TWolves without Love” argument is a hard sell vs. LBJ because it’s speculation, whereas we know exactly what LeBron means to a team. Look at last year, when he left the Cavs and they became the worst team in the league. The “who is in the top this-many in how many categories” is also prettty ephemeral because those are imperfect measures of a player’s impact. If you want to look at stats, there are much better ways to go about it. For instance, what if you added up points, steals, blocks, assists, and rebounds? LeBron comes out first in the league (Love is second). If you then take that (arbitrary) number and divide it by minutes played, LeBron comes out even further ahead of Love, and Love isn’t even top 4. Or, take PER, where LeBron is currently having the best season ever, as Chris said. Better than MJ, Kobe, Wade, Shaq, CP3…
      It’s just hard to argue against a guy who is, by all accounts, having one of the best seasons ever. He’s miles ahead of Love as a player. He is the best player in the league, leading a much better team than Love’s, he is their best player, he’s one of the best defenders in the league, he has had far more fourth quarter dominations than failures (both this season, in the playoffs last year, and in the playoffs over his career, selective memories notwithstanding), he took the biggest criticism of his game (based in the realm of fact) (his lack of post game) and turned it into one of his greatest strengths and the primary reason why his FG%/PER have shot up to godlike heights, and in general is the most valuable asset night in and night out that this league has seen since Michael Jordan. There just is no contest.

      • Yaw says

        Actually, the Wolves had the fewest wins last season. They had 17 wins at the end of the season – they have 13 already this season.

        The Cavs not only lost LBJ last year, but Varejao to injury and Illgauskas via free agency, so that’s three starters. They traded their starting point guard at the All Star break. They also changed coach and GM.

        The Heat, on the other hand, had only 11 more wins than from the previous season after adding both LeBron and Bosh.

        • Christian Baber says

          The Heat were already a playoff team. Were they supposed to get LeBron and cruise to a perfect record? Raw wins added between years isn’t a great way to look at this.

          • Chris says

            This has nothing to do with whether or not LeBron is the MVP, but if you are asking if the Heat should have cruised to a perfect record last season, I say: If you listened to the talk at the welcome party, you would have thought so.

      • Christian Baber says

        Andrew expanded on my argument better than I ever could. Honestly, I still haven’t heard a reasonable idea as to why we shouldn’t give the award to the man having arguably the greatest season of all time? Can we consider the weight of those words?

        • Chris says

          Christian,
          In the 1966-67 season, Wilt Chamberlain averaged 24.1 points, 24.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists, finishing fifth, first and third in those categories. Blocks weren’t an official stat, but virtually everyone who played then says Wilt had a minimum of five a game. He also led the league in shooting (.683), minutes played and FTs attempted. For the sabremetricians out there, His PER was 26.5 and his Win Shares was 21.9, both league bests. His team won a record 68 games and the title, ending Boston’s eight-year championship reign.

          By the way, this is nowhere near Wilt’s most dominant season.

          I understand eras are different, and LeBron is having a great season. To say it is arguably the best season of all time is absurd.

          • Christian Baber says

            I’m not an idiot. Obviously I remember Wilt’s stats. Obviously if blocks were counted Wilt’s PER would likely have been the greatest of all time. But it wasn’t. So I’m not going to guess at his PER to give him the edge.

            That said, I understand that LBJ may not be having the actual most dominant season ever. Do you feel better if I qualify it?

            LeBron James is having the greatest season ever by a wing player in the modern era. This still puts him in front of MJ, Bird, Magic, etc. in terms of per game production. Even given these qualifiers, how is he not the MVP?

          • Christian Baber says

            By the way I had no intention of making that sound as defensive as it came out. Also, I don’t think it’s fair to hold the welcome party celebrations against his MVP campaign.

          • Jim says

            Chris is really going to the mattresses (hopefully that is spelled correctly) for Love being MVP. Kidding, I actually love this website because both the writers and readers try to defend their opinions almost to the extent of stubbornness. And you are probably right about Love being the best power forward Chris, but for some reason I am stubborn and like Aldridge.

            Here is what it comes down to for me, when my Bulls play the Wolves I don’t fear Kevin Love. I don’t worry about him taking over a game: driving to the basket and drawing fouls like Lebron can, hit the smoothest rise and fire jump shots that Durant can hit, alter a game defensively the way Howard can (yes, he has demanded a trade, but that doesn’t mean he is currently impacting the game any less), hit impossible shots a find a way the way Kobe does, or make all 5 defenders focus on him the way Rose does.

            Maybe I haven’t watched enough of the Wolves this year (I’d say 5-8 games probably), but the Wolves need more wins before I can consider him an MVP and he needs to take over games more. Yes, his numbers are impressive, but other players have put up big numbers on mediocre teams that did not belong in the MVP talk, Monta Ellis for example (and yes Love is way better than Ellis and I think Ellis is probably the most over rated player in the NBA), but being on the fringe of the playoffs isn’t enough for him to be MVP over other players who have their teams not just in the playoffs but battling for home court in the first round.

            I went to the mattresses with you, Chris!

  7. Mike Wiley says

    Despite Luis Scalia singing the 1980′s pop song “Love hurts,” Kevin Love makes the biggest impact on his Wolves team than a player on any other team.

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