If it’s true, as the saying goes, that you must help yourself before you can possibly help anyone else, then there are indeed better days ahead for the lowly Timberwolves.
Kevin Love just won the Kia Most Improved Player award for 2010-11, based on the work he put in during the previous offseason, providing an example that his teammates and the Minnesota front office might want to follow.
Not content with being a player of average means, Love turned himself into a force on the glass and also a threat beyond the 3-point line. The NBA hasn’t seen many hybrids like this before, a power forward with the mentality of a pit bull and the touch of a diamond cutter. The result was a historic coming-of-age for Love, who led the league in rebounds and set a new pace for double-doubles.
Love averaged 15.2 rebounds along with 20.2 points, increases from 11 and 14 a year ago. His record of 53 straight double-doubles (double-figures in points and rebounds in the same game) fell just two shy of Elvin Hayes’ “modern” record. The NBA hasn’t had a 20 and 15 guy since Moses Malone in 1982-83. His 31-point, 31-rebound game against the Knicks last November was arguably the finest individual performance of the year.
Also, Love shot 41.7 percent on 3-pointers, the best evidence of Love being a self-made player. That was a vast improvement from 33 percent a year earlier, and miles ahead of his rookie year percentage of 10 percent. He also had a career high at the free-throw line at 85 percent.
“It all began last summer, when I put in the work, just to push myself to become a better player,” Love said. “It’s something I plan on doing every summer. This is just a start.”
Love locked himself in a West L.A. high school gym along with Russell Westbrook, his college teammate at UCLA, and some straggler named Derrick Rose last July and didn’t emerge until he felt better about himself and his place in the game. Those sessions with a pair of dynamic point guards, Love said, were beneficial for him because they forced him to sharpen his quickness and outside shooting.
“It was pretty intense, and it was also worth it,” Love said. “We helped each other out, and as you see, Derrick and Russell also came back better this season.”
The next lift was provided later that month by the Team USA sessions against top competition, meaning that, all summer long, Love was constantly tested and pressed by the best.
“That was a great experience, because it told me where I stood and how much further I needed to go,” he said.
It also helped that he forged a better understanding with coach Kurt Rambis. Until this season, Rambis was conservative with Love’s minutes and role, using him as a sixth man and also pulling Love from the floor before the player could work up a healthy sweat. In his first two seasons, Love averaged roughly 26 minutes a game and started 59 of a possible 141 games. This season, he started all 73 games he played and saw almost 36 minutes.
Next for Love is to be part of the Most Improved Team. That should be easy enough. It can’t get any worse for the Wolves. They won only 17 games, even fewer than a Cavaliers’ team that lost 26 straight, and have averaged only 20 wins in Love’s three seasons. Maybe Love should invite the entire team to his summer workouts. And it would help if the Wolves nailed their upcoming Draft decision and either sign Ricky Rubio or deal his rights for immediate help.
“I believe we’re headed in the right direction,” Love said. “We’ve got a good group of young guys and everyone gets along with each other. We’ll grow as a team.”