Thursday, March 10, 2011

Kevin Love Is Special in Knowing He Is No Dipper, Big E, or Moses

He can sink a shot from far away, well past the three-point line. He can drive past many of the power forwards of today for easy scores. He can post in the blocks and score on anyone in the game.

All those parts of his young game are still developing, but Kevin Love has always been able to gobble up rebounds by the bushel since he got on either an NBA, collegiate, or high school hardwood. On both ends of the floor with a steady consistency not seen for years.

After averaging over 15 rebounds in high school, Love stopped by UCLA for just one season. The 6'10" power forward was an All-American who was named Pac-10 Player of the Year after averaging over 17 points and 10 rebounds in 2007. He also had 23 double-doubles as the Bruins reached the Final Four before losing.

He seemed on his way to finding his name next to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, and Gail Goodrich on the long list of Bruin legends who are long considered amongst the best basketball players in NCAA history. Yet Love was looking ahead, so he eschewed his last three years of college in favor of the NBA.

Four NBA teams decided not to draft him in 2008. Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, and UCLA teammate Russell Westbrook were chosen before him. While Rose is having an MVP caliber season right now, and Westbrook is an All-Star, both Beasley and Mayo have been traded and Mayo was almost traded again recently.

The Memphis Grizzlies selected Love, but wanted Mayo. They traded Love to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Mayo. While Mayo scores 16 points a game for his career, the Grizzlies were recently trying to trade the shooting guard, now coming off the bench, after he fought with teammates and was suspended for steroid use.

Beasley is now Love's teammate, having been a salary cap casualty of the Miami Heat's signings of LeBron James and Chris Bosh. With Love handling the post, the athletic Beasley is currently averaging a career high 19.2 points per game.

Beasley still gets his average of just over five rebounds per game, but the Timberwolves do not ask him to circumcise his game by staying in the blocks the way Miami did. On a roster were just two players are older than 25-years old, most are trying to find their niche under the guidance of head coach Kurt Rambis.

Love just broke a doubles-double record set by the incomparable Moses Malone, who set the record in his 1979 MVP season. Malone, who led the NBA in rebounds five times in his career, was coming off a 1978 season where he had an amazing career high of 1,444 rebounds. He was credited with 51 straight double-double games in 1979, the most since the ABA and NBA merged in 1976.

One of the 50 Greatest Players of All-Time, Malone was a 13-time All-Star who never fouled out of a game in his career despite being an upper echelon defender and unstoppable force on the offense end and all over the boards.

Love says his new record should be respected as far as the post-merger modern game, but he certainly understands the history of the game extends well beyond 1976. He understands his place as well.

Now Love has his eyes set on yet another member of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players of All-Time. Elvin Hayes, considered by most the greatest power forward in the history of the NBA, had 55 straight games of double-doubles on 1973.

Hayes was a 12-time All-Star who led the league in rebounding twice and scoring once in his superb career. Though most might recall how no one could prevent the "Big E" from scoring his patented turn-around jumper that had him score 47 or more points five times in his career, Hayes was a great defender with seven games of 10 or more blocked shots as well.

The 1973 season where Hayes had his 55 games, he averaged over 18 rebounds a game. It is the third best average ever by anyone since Wilt Chamberlain retired. Hayes would take his teams to the finals three times in his career, winning once.

“Whether you put it as a modern-day or an ABA-NBA merger, I would say yes (his new record should be respected),” Love said. “But if you’re looking at the grand scheme of things, you’ve got to look at that 227. The Big Dipper. Wilt the Stilt. He’s something special. You’ve got to look at that. Why not go for Elvin then?”

When one tries to describe the greatest player in NBA history, words are not enough to encompass Wilt Chamberlain. Those 227 straight double-double games are a minimum mark that could be doubled, but there are some scorecard issues stretching back that far.

While fans quickly recall the "Stilt" scoring 100 points in a single game in 1962, some forget he averaged an astronomical 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game the season before. It wasn't an anomaly, because Chamberlain averaged 44.8 points and 24.3 rebounds per game in 1962.

The "Big Dipper" led the league in rebounding 11 times in his 15 seasons, including his last year. Chamberlain also led the league in points scored seven times. When people tried to say all he did was score, the legendary "Stilt" quieted critics by leading the NBA in assists in the 1967 season.

What set Chamberlain far and apart from any other fans choice for "Greatest Player Ever" is the fact the NBA desperately tried to stop him with a mountain of rules changes that were directly aimed at him in hopes of slowing Chamberlain down.

Love knows it is highly unlikely he will come anywhere near Chamberlain's 227 games, but passing Hayes on the double-double list would be amazing in itself. Unlike Hayes, Malone, or Chamberlain, Love is accomplishing his feat on a team with 16 wins in 66 games on a team that gets very little media coverage.

He is just 22-years old and in his third season. Love is on pace to get over 1,200 rebounds this year after averaging over nine and 11 rebounds per game in his first two seasons. He is the leader of a young team filled with talent that will only get better with experience.

Love has been playing on a sore knee, but it has not stopped him from trying to do his best. Love said,"Nothing’s really changed about how I feel about the double-double streak or the situation. I just go out there and play hard.”

Maybe when his career ends, fans will still be speaking of him in the same breath as Moses Malone and Elvin Hayes as they are now. Yet Malone and Hayes certainly have to proud of this youngster continuing the legacy of hard work that isn't seen much in the game anymore.

What Love has accomplished is historic, but the most impressive part is seeing a young man grounded in knowing his place and the trail-blazing players before him while not running around with the bloated ego of a pampered prima donna thinking his feces doesn't stink like so many have before him.

A young star who isn't a head case thinking he is the team. These are the players the NBA needs to promote. Especially one who understands, respects, and revels in the history of the game.

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