Scoring Title Long Shot For Love


VIDEO: GameTime examines the controversial ending against Dallas

When it was over, after Shawn Marion had raked Kevin Love‘s right arm to thwart what might have been the game-tying jumper while somehow avoiding the whistle that could have delivered those points from the line, all Love and the rest inside Target Center could do was stare. And smile, in the bewildered Love’s case, or bark the way Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman and so many fans did at the referees exiting the court as swiftly as the Dallas Mavericks. (Even the NBA, early on Tuesday, had to admit that their guys had messed that one up.)

It was a painful end to an inferior performance by Minnesota (a 21-point deficit prior to the scramble back, just five points from Wolves reserves, vaporish defense enabling Marion’s 32 points).

It also was Exhibit A in the case against Love ever leading the NBA in scoring.

Kevin Love

Kevin Love (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

That possibility came up over the weekend as Love kept plugging against Washington and Milwaukee on a streak of scoring at least 25 points in 11 consecutive games, the NBA’s longest this season (and longest in Wolves franchise history). With 33 against the Bucks Saturday and 36 against the Mavericks Monday (never mind the phantom two and however many more in an overtime that never happened), Love (26.5 ppg) has pushed to No. 2 behind Kevin Durant (28.5). New York’s Carmelo Anthony (26.3) is third, followed by LeBron James (25.5) and Paul George (23.9).

Love wrapped up December with monthly numbers of 30.0 ppg, 13.7 rpg, 4.2 apg while shooting 50 percent overall and 44.2 from 3-point range. That might earn him some Player of the Month love, but it doesn’t change the debate over his shot at scoring title.

Because of, well, Exhibit A.

“I wonder what that would have been if [Dirk] Nowitzki, LeBron James, all the top players in the league – a guy reaches on a last-second shot like that, instead of challenging it. Maybe they don’t understand that Kevin is one of the top five players in the league,” Adelman said.

Maybe ref Ed Malloy didn’t appear to on that final play Monday (Malloy was close but on the far side from Love’s right arm and Marion). Still, Love shot eight free throws in the game, most by anyone on either side. (Nowitzki shot three in 33 minutes and Minnesota never bothered to put Marion on the line at all.) He ranks sixth in the NBA with 230 free throws attempted (and third with 191 makes).

For Love, that’s an average of 7.66 attempts per game. Among the scoring leaders, that’s fewer than Durant (9.26) but more than Anthony (7.25), James (7.13) or – this will get Frank Vogel going – George (5.75). But when a fellow earns those whistles matters, too, and if Love – big strong guy who, in those late-game situations, often is hoisting from at or near the arc – doesn’t get the same benefit of the doubt among elite scorers, he’ll have a tough time capturing a scoring crown.

That leads to Exhibit B: The way Love plays. He is a double-double machine in points and rebounds and, of the league’s 11 performances of 25/15/5 this season, Love has eight. Adelman and boss Flip Saunders challenged Love to boost that last number — and Love challenged himself — from what had been a career 2.7 assists. He is doing it, up to 4.2 apg in 2013-14.

Along with leading the NBA in rebounding (13.7), that’s a lot of varied responsibility, beyond what Durant, Anthony or maybe even James has on a given night. The Heat star can play any of the five positions, certainly, but doesn’t have to attend to the glass the way Love does.

Adelman didn’t sound optimistic about a scoring title in his guy’s future.

“I don’t know,” the Minnesota coach said before Saturday’s game. “I don’t think it’s that important. He’s got disadvantages. He plays a lot inside, too – they’ll take things away from you. I don’t even worry about that. If he keeps getting 25 points, I’ll be happy.”

Some of Love’s rebounds are put-backs but, by playing down low, he’s in heavy traffic more than the game’s wing scorers.

Love might have ambitions to add a scoring title to his growing stats-and-achievements collection – he was tickled to win the 3-point in 2012 when he also finished second in rebounding (13.3) – but he doesn’t harbor any illusions.

“It’s tough to say,” Love said after the Bucks game. “As long as Kevin Durant’s in the league, I doubt I’ll ever lead the league in scoring. He’s a monster out there. For me, I just try to be the most efficient player I can be. If I’m in the top five to 10 in scoring, that’s pretty darned good.”

And that seems fine, considering Exhibit C, the history of it all. Shooting guards and small forwards have won the past 13 scoring titles (Durant 4, Allen Iverson 3, Kobe Bryant 2, Tracy McGrady 2, Dwyane Wade 1, James 1). Prior to that, players in those positions had won 13 of 16 (Michael Jordan 10, Iverson 1, Dominique Wilkins 1, Bernard King 1), interrupted only by centers Shaquille O’Neal (1995, 2000) and David Robinson (1994).

In other words, we’ve got to go back to Utah’s Adrian Dantley in 1981 and 1984 for any scoring champ who played power forward and work so heavily in the paint. Before that? Now we’re talking Bob Pettit with a pair of points titles in 1956 and 1959. Otherwise, it’s been smaller, swifter guys, behemoths like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or occasional hybrids (Bob McAdoo, Elvin Hayes).

Love does have one advantage historically over great power forwards past or present: His 3-point proficiency. This season, he ranks sixth in attempts with 196 – more than any of the other Top 5 scorers – and he’s averaging 6.53 3-point shots per game. Among power forwards, according to basketball-reference.com, only Ryan Anderson (four times) and Antoine Walker (three) have done that, depending how you classify Rashard Lewis (twice in Orlando).

At this point, though, on the day after, Love, Adelman and Minnesota probably would settle for cleaning up Exhibit A.


VIDEO: A closer look at the final play of Mavs-Wolves

22 Comments

  1. boll says:

    melo won it last year

  2. AG says:

    RKB: you said that if Love got his star calls and his free throws, he would e the league’s top scorer/. but last game Kevin Love got his star call and ended up mssing all 3. What do you have to say about your star call non sense? He got his staar call and he didnt come through. Kevin Durant was singlehandedly able to bring OKC back against the Wolves and he didnt even need star calls to do that. The star calls that game were all in Love’s hands and he didnt come through. im not saying that Love is not good and not a star. its just Durant is the best scorer in this generation and he will be for a while. Kareem even said that he has the best chance to break the scoring record. And he averages two more free throws a game mainly due to his ability to draw fouls. Kevin Love is an All Star and he is a Superstar and so is Kevin Durant and the star calls are not based on that, they are based on the referees decsisions. Kevin Love did get fouled against Dallas and he should have been sent to the free throw line. But what if the referees called the foul and Love missed just like against OKC? Then what? RKB, you got to learn the facts and the facts are that there are no such calls as star calls and even if there were Kevin Love would get them to considering that he is the best PF in the league right now and he is a Superstar.

  3. Krizzer says:

    I like the way he play.

  4. KP says:

    Vegas said go Dallas. Result will go Dallas. NO MATTER WHO HAS THE PLAY. WAKE UP PLEASEEEEEE

  5. The Voice in the Distance says:

    Kevin Love probably doesn’t even care whether he gets a scoring title or not. For all the scoring titles Allen Iverson has he’d probably sacrifice any or all of them for a championship ring. What Love needs most is for his team to step it up (especially Ricky Rubio) as that roster has the talent for a playoff place. Love is probably the number 4 player in the league with only LeBron James, Kevin Durant & Chris Paul ahead of him but he can’t carry the Wolves to the playoffs alone in a conference packed with so many quality teams.

    As for foul situations there is too much of the superstar calls thinking around. No player should be given a foul call based on who they are. If it’s a foul it’s a foul if not then it’s not. Too many coaches complain about their star player not getting enough calls.

  6. J says:

    Why don’t you guys post my comments? I’d like an answer via email or just reply to this Hang Time writers.

  7. Jay says:

    Love is such a great player, even better that he doesn’t whine when things don’t go his way. Much respect.

  8. Alex says:

    Bad calls are common place. Yes, stars get more doubt benefits but for the most part everything evens out. I have little problem with most calls and can’t think of any consecutive bad calls recently during the playoffs that truly mattered in the long run (make up calls for bad ones are made frequently, that I can attest to).

    That being said, how is Love’s ability to grasp a scoring title relevant? His team is not thriving despite its talent (not championship talent, but still above what they’ve shown). Scoring title or not, they are still only on the borderline of the race for the first step (making the playoffs) of the only title that matters, not to mention the 4 steps (playoff rounds) that come after it.

  9. javielo says:

    Your typical daily bad calls from refs in the NBA if you want to see lot of them just watch Miami Heat they get the advantage every day its awful to watch Lebron get calls without no fouls at all.

    • Game Time says:

      Kevin Love shoots more FT per game than Lebron. What happened to him was a huge robbery, but it happens to other teams as well. Miami had a bogus foul call last year against Wade in the ECF that sent PG to the line for3 Fts.

  10. henriquebfs says:

    Durant doesnt have 4, hes got 3. Melo got one from last year

  11. jist666 says:

    I agree with the fact that Kevin Love will never win a scoring title. But he definitely a top player. I would put him in fifth, behind Durant, James, Parker and Paul.

    • BigBoy says:

      parker over paul george? love over paul george? you crazy. if indy keeps this level of play, its a two-man mvp race between lbj and paul george. you crazy. must have something againt indy to not even mention george

  12. Me says:

    I do not think that the fact that Ed Malloy was in the mix is a coincidence. It would be worth to track how many times the league released a statement to acknowledge a mistake by the referees in which Ed Malloy was one of them. He is by far the worst referee in the NBA. Arrogant and making a lot of important mistakes. Can you have a worst combination? I can not understand how the league does not take him out of the game.

  13. bob ellison says:

    Asch, an insight, re ADRIAN DANTLEY — & why the Lakers traded him, altho he was a prolific scorer:

    I couldn’t understand the move, so I asked John Wooden. Simple answer. Because, Coach replied, he worked too close to the bucket, & down low was Abdul-Jabbar’s area to dominate. AD was clogging the key, getting in the way.

    Always look forward to your coverage; have a Happy & Productive New Year.

    Bob Ellison

  14. for real? says:

    oh c’mon.. it only happened last year and you forget!?

    Kevin Durant has only 3 scoring titles.. Carmelo Anthony won it last year!!

  15. john says:

    I understand that referees are like us. Humans. But that foul is very obvious. How can you not call that? Every game in the NBA is very important. Those referees should do their job right. I can’t believe thoe referees. They shoulve been demoted.

  16. maorinash says:

    A scoring title would be nice, but in reality it means very little if your playing on a team that consistently fails to make the playoffs. Not to take away from his amazing numbers, but it’s easier to boost the stats when you are really the only star on a team.

  17. sirsparhawk says:

    I love how they encourage acting instead of ball play. Kevin Love is a real player, he doesn’t need to act like he was shot every time he shoots to be great. He should have been sent to the line plain and simple. He isnt as good of a scorer as Durant, yet but he is a much better rebounder, and screener and he is still a only 4-5 years in the league. He is a young buck.

    • rkb says:

      If scaled to minutes, love is < 1 point lower than KD. KD gets 2 more free throws per game than KD. If love got the same star calls as KD and played the same minutes, he would be leading the league.