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July 29, 2011
Taking the Next Step
Kevin Love

by Sebastian Pruiti

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Last season, Kevin Love finally got the minutes that he deserved, playing and starting the most games of his career and logging the most minutes per game (35.8) of his career. The result was Love's best NBA season to date, including a stretch of 53 straight double-doubles. There are people out there who say Love's success was at least partly due to the insane pace at which the Timberwolves were playing. To prove those people wrong, Love is going to have to continue to develop his game.

What He Did Well

We all know about Love's rebounding and his ability to grab boards on both the offensive and defensive end, but one of the main reasons you saw Love's True Shooting Percentage rise all the way to 59.3 percent was his success in the pick-and-roll, more specifically in the pick-and-pop.

Love, who struggles finishing at the basket when rolling to the rim because of his size, has a tendency to pop out in pick-and-roll situations where he can better use his shooting ability. Of his 152 pick-and-roll possessions, Love popped out 94 times (or 61.8 percent) and scored 127 points, for a points per possession (PPP) of 1.351, best in the NBA among players who had 40 pick-and-pop possessions last season. The reason for Love's success is his shooting stroke, which allows him knock down a jumpers all the way out to the three-point line. In pick-and-pop situations, Love shot 47.2 percent overall and posted an effective field-goal percentage (eFG%) of 66.3 percent:

Love, who shoots a set shot, really benefits from having a quick release. Usually in pick-and-pop situations you have Love's defender hedging and then returning to close out on him as he makes the catch. So Love's quick and accurate release actually allows him to get more shots off than someone who has a slower trigger. The ability to pop out and knock down a jumpers is an important skill that really puts pressure on the defense. The way most teams defend pick-and-rolls is they have a third man rotating to help out on a defender rolling to the rim. However, if you aren't rolling to the rim, you screw up the defense's rotations and usually come away with an open (by NBA standards) shot.

What Needs To Change

While offense isn't much of a problem for Love, he tends to struggle on the defensive end. Where he struggles the most is in isolation situations. When he gets isolated, Love gives up a PPP of .917, putting him in the bottom third of the league, on 46.2 percent shooting. There are a couple of reasons why Love struggles when isolated. First, he's a bit undersized for a power forward which allows opponents to finish over him even when he is contesting shots. The second is foot speed. Love isn't the quickest laterally, and that leads to him getting beat on the defensive end by guys who can face up and put the ball on the floor:

That lack of foot speed hurts Love because it forces him to play off of his man a little bit, creating space for the guy that he is guarding to rise up and knock down jumpers. As more stretch fours enter the league this will continue to be a problem. Another thing that I noticed when watching the tape is that Love has a tendency not to contest a shot if it means putting himself out of position to get a rebound. Now, is this a good thing? I don't think so. Sure, when his opponent misses it means he is there to grab the defensive rebound and end the possession. However, how many times is his man going to miss the shot when he isn't being contested at the rim? I'd like to see Love contest a few more shots at the rim, forcing a few more misses, and allowing his teammates to claim the defensive boards. What's also interesting is that defenses didn't really attack Love in isolation, only doing so 7.1 percent of the time. In this league teams find weaknesses and attack them. It will only be a matter of time before teams start attacking Love game in and game out.

All this being said, the question now is whether Love replicate or even exceed this past season's success. I think he can. First, he's going to play the pick-and-pop game with Ricky Rubio, one of the best playmaking guards out there. He'll also have a coach who (hopefully) understands that he is a pick-and-roll threat and he needs to be used that way much more . (As a point of reference, Darko Milicic got close to 250 more post up opportunities than Love got pick-and-roll opportunities.) Sure Love struggles to finish around the rim, but we have seen guys like David West have success being a pop guy exclusively. Defensively, I don't know how much better Love can get, but if he can contest a few more shots at the rim, he could become a passable defender.

Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Sebastian by clicking here or click here to see Sebastian's other articles.

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Top 100 (07/28)
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Premium Article UNC Looks Dominant...A... (08/01)

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