Lost in the tangle of jaw-dropping stat lines and three All-Star appearances in five years of professional basketball is Kevin Love’s aptitude for passing. Calling it latent seems to be a disservice, but like I said, it’s not glaring in our faces. It gets lost in the clutter of perplexing body control and sizzling range, hidden beneath the low-block where he ransacks the glass regularly; so don’t double-check your vision. If a ‘Where’s Waldo’ version of the Minnesota Timberwolves were developed, few would be able to spot Love’s ability to facilitate covered beneath the red and white.
He’s not the most athletic player on any court, but his efficiency has transcended elite. Keep in mind that Love is 25-years-old and is the fulcrum of the Timberwolves. His 6-foot-10 frame and mild wingspan positions him at power forward, but since 1975 he’s posted the most consecutive double-doubles in the NBA with 53. Centers don’t grab double-doubles the way Love does. He’s simply unwilling to lose the rebounding battle, and he’s proficient at just about everything.
When Love gained notoriety at UCLA, the first highlight of him that I ever saw was of an outlet pass.
Perhaps, it’s no surprise that one of the most revered coaches in the history of sports, John Wooden, compared his passing ability to Bill Walton and Wes Unseld, two of the best big men to ever do it. Despite Love’s lunar outlet passes, which have been evident since he first stepped foot on a basketball court, it’s one of the least talked about variables of his game.
Even this season, it’d be remiss not to mention Love’s 27.4 seasonal player efficiency rating (PER) or his 52.3 effective field goal percentage (eFG%), both of which are career-highs. But the fact that Love has already surpassed his career-high in assists over the course of an entire season with 35 games left is comical. Even for someone who has grown accustom to exceeding the limits of average while simultaneously turning them into an ordinary showing, this is absurd.
Let’s take a step back. Keep in mind, two years ago Kevin Love had to respond to the myriad of critics attacking his athleticism, ability to become an effective go-to scorer, and his three-point range. As Steve McPherson, a Grantland contributor notes, Love’s garlanded rebuttal ended with a top five finish for points and rebounds per game, PER, rebounding percentage, and win shares. For good measure, he also won the 3-point shooting contest that year.
Then came 2012-2013, a year Kevin Love couldn’t have expected. Last season, Love broke his right hand sidelining him for a majority of first half of the year, and then proceeded to re-brake it on his way out of his fourth year in the NBA. The Timberwolves were awful, ending the season with a record of 31-51, and finished last in their division. In 2012-2013, Kevin Love played in just 18 games.
This year, Love trails only Kevin Durant and LeBron James in win shares, trails only DeAndre Jordan in total rebounds, and is averaging a career high 4.0 assists per 36 minutes. Only starting point guard Ricky Rubio averages more per game.
In this sequence, Love is found at the top of the key, and, after Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic successfully screen Stephen Curry, Love fires a behind-the-back pass on a dime to teammate Corey Brewer for the lay-in.
It takes two seconds for Love to do this. If he misses by a handful of inches, Brewer doesn’t get his lay-in off cleanly.
Yet, Love hasn’t become a triple-double threat – in fact he’s never posted one – but it’s damn near impossible to refute the notion that his passing has improved dramatically this season. Love has found refuge in consistency and has only gone without an assist once this season. He did that three times in 18 games in 2012-2013.
Love has quickly pole-vaulted his way into the best passing power forward discussion, and he hasn’t sacrificed either his scoring or rebounding to do it. He’s having the best season of his career in terms of facilitation, and that’s worth talking about.