You want rebounds? All you need is Love
A few years ago, this reporter talked to an NBA player who was a UCLA alumnus, and the subject was Kevin Love, who was an incoming freshman from Lake Oswego High School in Oregon.
“I heard he’s got NBA passing skills,’’ the player said. “And he looks like a grown man; he’s even got a little beer belly.’’
The scouting report was accurate. Love was an NBA-caliber player when he was 18, though his chunky build added to the assumption that he was a few years older than his listed age.
Five years later, Love looks like a grizzled veteran, yet he is only in his third NBA season. A little trimmer but buried under the radar, Love is the face of the Timberwolves, a brilliant rebounder who has a streak of 19 games with at least 10 rebounds and a whopping 28 double-doubles in 33 games, including a 30-30 game Nov. 12 against the New York Knicks.
As of yesterday, he was leading the league in rebounds at 15.5 per game, a surprising 2.5 more than Orlando’s Dwight Howard, who is second.
Labeled a franchise power forward since his AAU days, Love is living up to those expectations and stunning the league with his daily production and his workmanlike attitude.
“I think a lot of it is opportunity,’’ he said. “I’m getting about seven or eight more minutes per game and there’s a lot more balls out there for me to get in those few minutes. Last year, I averaged 11 and this year I just feel like there are more balls out there for me and I’m playing a bigger role.’’
Love doesn’t get by on athleticism or brute strength. Rebounding is about technique. The game’s great rebounders were the greatest anticipators. It’s more than just luck or the ball finding you.
Love snaps up boards because he is better prepared than most of his opponents.
“Bill Russell said 80 percent of rebounds are below the rim,’’ said Love. “So I don’t have to be the most athletic guy in the world or the longest or lengthiest guy. For me, a lot of it is positioning and tenacity, and also assuming that everything’s a miss because not many teams shoot 50 percent from the floor.’’
The Timberwolves come to Boston tomorrow with a 2-17 road record, but 10 of those losses were by single digits. They are playing teams close into the fourth quarter, then melting down the stretch, a characteristic of a younger team.
“It’s very tough,’’ said Love. “I think we’ve had seven or eight games where we’ve had double-digit leads going into the fourth quarter.
“It’s been very hard to learn how to win and getting everybody on the same page knowing that we have eight or nine new guys. Learning how to win has been the biggest obstacle we’ve had to face, especially in the fourth quarter.’’
General manager David Kahn has loaded the roster with youngsters. He acquired the gifted but troubled Michael Beasley in a salary dump when Miami was clearing cap space to sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh. He drafted Wesley Johnson and Jonny Flynn. He acquired Martell Webster from Portland and traded Al Jefferson to Utah to open the power forward position for Love.
The Timberwolves do not have a player over 29, which might make for fun times on the road but means a lot of inexperience on the court.
Love, who turned 22 three months ago, is the central figure. It’s a heavy responsibility at that age, especially with a team that is still trying to escape the ghost of Kevin Garnett.
“I just take it in stride,’’ he said. “I think it’s something that you work towards your whole life. For me, I still don’t think that I’m there. I have so much to prove, and that feeling will never leave me because that’s what’s in my blood and what I take to heart every single day.’’
Love knows there was a horde of doubters once he declared for the NBA draft after a season at UCLA. It is a league that can frown upon those who aren’t athletic freaks or don’t wow scouts at the combine. But Love has become one of the league’s premier rebounders by outworking his opponents, and that type of desire cannot be measured with a tape or a scale.
“I always take what Steve Nash said to heart,’’ said Love. “When he came into the draft, he said, ‘More people focused on what I couldn’t do rather than what I could do.’
“If you want to focus on all the things I can’t do or haven’t done before then, you’re going to miss out on most of the things I can do. What I can do overwhelms the things people say that are negative about me, and I take that to heart and it’s what my confidence stems from.’’
“There’s no timeline for it,’’ Roy told reporters in Portland. “I would love to give people a time but I can’t. There are a number of things we’re looking at, a bunch of different options.
“The biggest thing is finding a new treatment. Rest isn’t answering the question. I need to find a new treatment option to get back on the court.’’
Roy’s situation is especially difficult because he just signed a maximum contract extension and the Trail Blazers are helpless to move him because of the money and his health. So like teammate Greg Oden, who is out again after microfracture surgery in his left knee, Roy sits and hopes his career isn’t prematurely concluding.
Kevin McHale was GM of the Timberwolves when Roy was available in the 2006 draft, but wary of his injury history, McHale passed on him in favor of Randy Foye.
“I remember very vividly sitting in a room with a bunch of doctors,’’ said McHale, “and they were saying, ‘Well, I don’t know, he could have problems in a couple of years. It could be five, it could be 10, it could be never, but the range that he has, he’s going to have problems with his knee.’ ’’
The question for McHale is whether he would have taken four years of excellent play from Roy — he was Rookie of the Year and is a three-time All-Star — bad knees and all, or nothing from Foye, who was traded after two years.
Some observers wondered why the Blazers offered a five-year, $34 million contract to second-year restricted free agent guard Wesley Matthews; now they have their answer. Matthews is third on the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game.
After a storied career at North Carolina, Hansbrough has failed to make an impact in the NBA. He has been held out of eight games this season and played fewer than 10 minutes in seven others. By now he was supposed to be the Pacers’ starting power forward, but he has had to watch former Duke adversary Josh McRoberts and veteran Jeff Foster share the role.
Hansbrough’s hyper style hasn’t exactly led coach Jim O’Brien to give him consistent minutes — nor has his 6-for-26 shooting in December. The Pacers are in their first playoff chase in five years, and the question is whether Hansbrough can make a significant contribution.
“I feel like I’m coming around, I feel like I’m developing,’’ Hansbrough said. “I feel like I’m able to help the team. It’s just about me being able to get into games and Coach building some type of confidence to put me in.’’
Injuries, he said, are frustrating, “but it’s something you can’t control. All you can do is focus on getting better; you can’t think about getting back on the court. Just worry about yourself and get healthy.’’
While Hansbrough was a legitimate power forward/center during his North Carolina years, he is undersized in comparison to most NBA power forwards.
“The main difference is just the size of the guys and the athleticism,’’ he said. “You have to get used to that first. You’ve got to expand your game. You’ve got to work more on your jump shot and moves to get your shot off.’’
The Pacers are loaded with younger, inexpensive players that team president Larry Bird hopes to develop. Hansbrough’s role is uncertain at this point, and there is some question whether, at age 25, he can get significantly better.
“We’re definitely a young team and have a core that feels like the organization put us together to kind of grow,’’ he said. “I feel like things are just starting to come around and hopefully we can continue to be one of these young teams that will be a playoff contender.’’
Layups Raptors rookie forward Ed Davis has gone mostly unnoticed because he missed the first month recovering from knee surgery (and he plays for Toronto). But he collected his second double-double of the season Tuesday in an upset win over the Mavericks. The Raptors desperately need a boost after losing Chris Bosh to free agency, and Davis could become a standout . . . An intriguing player on the market is Raptors sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic, who has not played since Nov. 26 because of a knee injury but is close to returning. Stojakovic is earning $14 million this season, and the Raptors also have most of the Bosh trade exception to facilitate a deal . . . Antoine Walker is averaging 16 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in seven games with NBDL Idaho. He is shooting 41 percent from the floor and 30 percent from long distance. Walker will need at least a few more weeks of conditioning before he is ready for an NBA return. Former Harvard standout Jeremy Lin is averaging 15 points and 4 rebounds in two games with NBDL Reno after being sent down last week by Golden State. And ex-UConn standout Jeff Adrien is averaging 11.2 points and 8 rebounds in five games with NBDL Erie. Adrien was waived by the Warriors last month.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.