by Paul Knepper
Last night, Timberwolves forward Kevin Love scored 26 points and grabbed 17 rebounds to extend his double-double streak to 51 consecutive games, tying Moses Malone for the NBA’s longest streak of double-doubles since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976. Wilt Chamberlain’s streak of 224 consecutive double-doubles, which will likely never be touched, occurred prior to the merger.
Love’s statistics this season have been eye-popping. He’s averaging 20.9 and 15.7 points per game and leads the league in both offensive and defensive rebounds. Since the NBA added the three-point shot in 1979, only Moses Malone has averaged over 20 points and 15 rebounds over an entire season and he won the MVP that year. There have been 12 20 points and 20 rebound games this season and Love has 11 of them. He even posted 31 points and 31 rebounds in a game against the Knicks in November.
It may come as a surprise to some that the Wolves forward has plenty of naysayers. Some players, coaches and members of the media have dismissed his double-double streak on the grounds that he’s compiled these numbers playing for an awful Timberwolves team that has the second worst record in the league at 15-50. Love himself said after last night’s game, “I’m just going out there and playing hard and it is just kind of happening for me. But it is kind of an afterthought because we aren’t winning.”
Some NBA players and coaches have alluded to Love being a stat-stuffer, a guy who racks up meaningless numbers for a bad team. The league’s leading scorer, Kevin Durant recently commented, “Video-game numbers. Thirty rebounds is unheard of around this day. For him to get 30 rebounds, at his height, he’s not as athletic as other players at his position, but he is just playing for numbers.”
That last line about him “just playing for numbers” is the rub. The argument goes that if he were on a contending team he’d have to refine his game to mesh with teammates and win ballgames and wouldn’t produce those kinds of numbers. Phil Jackson even accused Love of padding his stats by grabbing every missed foul shot and shots at the end of quarters.
Just being on a terrible team creates opportunities for good players to juice their stats. The Timberwolves take and miss more shots than any team in the NBA and give up the third most shots, so Love has more chances to grab rebounds than players on other teams. Plus, when your two best teammates are Michael Beasley and Luke Ridnour, you’re going to have less competition for shot attempts and rebounds.
David Lee is a good example of a player in recent years whose numbers were inflated because of the team he played for. Last year, Lee scored 20.2 points and grabbed 11.7 rebounds per game on a dreadful Knicks team and benefited from Mike D’Antoni’s wide open system. This season, on a mediocre, though still fast paced, Golden State squad he’s averaging a more pedestrian 16.2 and 9.7. Put him on the Celtics, Heat, or Durant’s Thunder and those numbers would drop further, at least the points would.
There’s another argument that Love’s streak is meaningless because he hasn’t helped his team win ballgames. The Timberwolves are 11-40 during the streak. Last season, LeBron James led the now dismal Cavs to the best regular season record and Chris Bosh carried a pretty poor Raptors team to the playoffs. If Love were that good, and his streak that significant wouldn’t the Timberwolves at least be mediocre?
One counter argument is that the cast around LeBron in Cleveland and Bosh in Toronto was more talented than what Love is working with. However, nobody is saying that Kevin Love is in the same class as LeBron James, or the next Moses Malone. He’s a good, exciting, young player in the middle of a remarkable streak.
No matter what the circumstances, 51 consecutive double-doubles is very impressive. There have been plenty of good players whose production spiked while playing for bad teams, but none of them approached numbers like this. Sure, somebody has to do the scoring on a terrible team, but the flip side is that opposing coaches gameplan around stopping Love because he’s the T-Wolves best player.
It’s also not as if the California native is launching wild shots to stuff his numbers. He’s shooting a very efficient 47% from the field and 86% from the line. His 15.7 rebounds per game are over two more than the closest competitor. Even if we knock off a few a game for being on a terrible team he’d still pull down 12 to 13 boards a night, which is incredible considering he’s only about 6’8 (Don’t buy his official listing of 6’10), and wasn’t blessed with the muscular build of Dwight Howard or hops of Blake Griffin.
What’s most remarkable about Love’s streak is his consistency. In a demanding, physical league, with an 82 game schedule, long road trips and back-to-back games, he’s brought tremendous effort and desire every single night. Even the great ones have a few off nights during the season. Love hasn’t, and the fact that he’s maintained that level of commitment and focus despite all of the losing makes it all the more impressive.
If you’ve seen him play, you know he’s not merely a stat stuff; he competes to win. His 31-31 game was the one of the most dominating performances I’ve seen on a basketball court in the past several years. He’s also one of the most unique players the NBA has to offer. He throws the best outlet pass, is a fierce rebounder and shoots 42 percent from behind the arc.
Love will attempt to surpass Malone’s mark on Wednesday night when the Timberwolves host the Pacers. This isn’t DiMaggio’s hitting streak or Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record, but it’s a tremendous accomplishment by an exciting young player. Show the kid some Love.