Kevin Love’s Hall of Fame Candidacy


Per 36 Minutes Table
1Charles Barkley*.5760.
2Tim Duncan.5070.
3Kevin Garnett.4900.
4Kevin Love.4421.74.7.364.8203.49.312.
5Karl Malone*.5250.
6Kevin McHale*.5530.
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/13/2017.
Per 100 Poss Table
1Charles Barkley*10.918.
2Tim Duncan12.
3Kevin Garnett11.
4Kevin Love9.521.
5Karl Malone*12.623.
6Kevin McHale*10.418.
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/13/2017.
Advanced Table
1Charles Barkley*25.3.640.102.61313.521.717.716.12.21.616.124.4.224
2Tim Duncan25.3.554.011.45110.125.618.
3Kevin Garnett23.5.539.037.2958.524.616.721.01.93.312.125.4.183
4Kevin Love21.9.565.307.41310.529.119.712.
5Karl Malone*22.3.580.010.5119.322.816.312.
6Kevin McHale*19.1.594.002.3629.616.613.
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/13/2017.
Playoffs Per 100 Poss Table
1Charles Barkley*10.418.2.5690.41.8.20810.016.4.6097.611.4.6696.110.716.
2Tim Duncan11.623.4.4970.00.3.14311.623.1.5018.412.0.7024.712.517.
3Kevin Garnett11.124.3.4580.31.0.33310.823.4.4635.67.3.7613.613.
4Kevin Love7.719.3.3983.89.1.4143.910.2.3845.66.8.8252.612.
5Karl Malone*11.824.6.4820.00.3.00011.824.3.4879.612.6.7683.610.313.
6Kevin McHale*
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/13/2017.

In a sports-media world where scorching hot takes and prisoner-of-the-moment snap judgments have become the style over in-depth analysis and retrospection’s substance, certain NBA narratives infiltrate the masses like the bubonic plague.

“Kelly Olynyk is a dirty player!”

“The NBA is not as good as it used to be!”

“Steph Curry is a bad defender!”

Apparently, all a narrative needs to gain credence is a loudmouth talking-head – usually from a certain four-letter network – shouting it incessantly over others in mic-dropping fashion.

One fallacy that has spread in recent seasons is that Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love is an overrated basketball player. This ill-advised take should be ushered away like a fan detained by stadium security after storming the field during a Major League Baseball game. Lock that take away and lose the key.

With the Minnesota Timberwolves, Love was regarded as one of the league’s top young power forwards – a dominant rebounding force blessed with the skills to facilitate offense from the high post and extend the defense with accurate three-point shooting at a high clip. His tools were so tantalizing, some debated if he was one of the league’s premier building blocks at the power forward position.

Since Love’s arrival in Cleveland, his star has waned while operating under heavy scrutiny as the third wheel in Lebron James’ second iteration of the Big Three. His role in the offense has been as stable as the lines on a seismograph reading – ranging from standing in the corner as a floor spacer to being force-fed in the post early in games. Love’s athletic limitations hinder his ability to protect the rim and make him a prime target in the pick and roll, but his elite positional rebounding yields value by limiting opposing opportunities. In fact, Love’s deficiencies on the defensive end of the floor have been greatly exaggerated based off of his 15th place finish among power forwards in ESPN’s Defensive RPM metric – 17 spots ahead of reputable defensive presence, Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka. Love will never be mistaken for Bill Russell, but he can provide adequate defense in spurts.

Many of the criticisms lobbed at Love are eerily similar to the jabs Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh endured as third banana to James and Dwyane Wade. Time has been kind to Bosh’s legacy, with his sacrifices and team-first mentality finally garnering him the recognition he deserves, he is a certified Hall of Fame lock.

The similarities between Bosh and Love as third wheels on a Lebron James-led team are staggering. Bosh’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating) from 2010-14 was 19.4, Love’s PER through 2014-17 stands at 19.6. Bosh’s usage rate was at 23.2 percent, while Love’s is just a tick higher at 23.6 percent. Bosh accrued a WS/48 (Win Shares per 48 minutes) of .168 with James, compared to Love’s .166. Bosh’s VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) netted a 6.3 rating, and Love checks in at 6.5. The only difference between the forwards is in their Box Plus/Minus ratings, with a heavy lean towards offense for Love in contrast to a balanced affect on both ends of the floor for Bosh.

All aspersions aside, Love has amassed an impressive resume through his age 28 season, his ninth in the league:

  • Four-time All-Star
  • Two-time All-NBA
  • 2008-09 All-Rookie Team
  • 2010-11 Most Improved Player
  • 2010-11 League Rebounding Leader
  • 2016 NBA Champion

Love compares favorably to multiple high-profile current and future NBA Hall of Fame power forwards – including Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Kevin McHale (In McHale’s defense, his age 28 season was his first as a full-time starter, his subsequent seasons were even better), Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan – through their age 28 seasons (stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com).

In terms of awards and titles, Duncan is unrivaled among this group. By the end of his age 28 season in 2004-05, Duncan had already collected eight All-NBA, eight All-Defense, seven All-Star appearances, three NBA titles, three Finals MVPs, two MVPs, one All-Star MVP and NBA Rookie of the Year. What a mouthful. Love’s accolades are similar to Barkley and Malone’s compilation, minus their All-Star MVP awards and his singular NBA title (which is huge). McHale gathered two Sixth-Man awards, two All-Star appearances and three NBA titles, while Garnett had an MVP, eight All-Star appearances and six All-Defense in his portfolio.

Per 36 minutes, Love leads in rebounding (12.6), three-point shooting (1.7 3p, .364) and free-throw shooting (.820). The burly Cavalier brings up the rear in field goal percentage, but his decided advantage in three-point shooting neutralizes that deficit.

Per 100 possessions, Love’s ORtg (points produced per 100 possessions) of 116 is third. His DRtg (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 106 is last, but only a hair behind Barkley (105) and McHale (103). Duncan’s reputation as the greatest defensive forward in NBA history is well represented here with an astounding DRtg of 94.

Utilizing advanced metrics, Love’s PER (21.9), true shooting percentage (.565) and WS/48 (.180) stack up with the all-time greats at his position. As a point of reference, the 2016-17 league average true shooting percentage was right at 56 percent. Barkley’s true shooting percentage rates among the greatest of all-time, regardless of position, so his .640 easily leads the field. Duncan and Barkley are comfortably ahead in WS/48, at .227 and .224 respectively. To help illustrate how good Duncan and Barkley were through their age 28 seasons, Michael Jordan and Lebron compiled a .275 and .227 WS/48 throughout the same timeframe.

Despite Love’s championship with Cleveland, his individual playoff performance pales in comparison to his counterparts. Other than a few assertive early-round series against the likes of the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks, Love has predominantly been relegated to a floor spacer with inconsistent point and rebound outputs. His 10.2 two-point attempts per game is 6.2 less than Barkley, who is fifth. His 9.1 three-point attempts is 7.3 more than Barkley, who places a distant second. Love’s ORtg of 113 has him above Malone, Duncan and Garnett, but it’s buoyed by an excellent .414 career playoff three-point percentage. On the opposite end of the spectrum is his ghastly career playoff two-point field goal percentage of .384, which indicates a player settling for a heavy diet of jumpers with minimal easy shots.

Amid Cleveland’s current three-year postseason run, the basketball has been dominated by James and point guard Kyrie Irving, who have used their exceptional one-on-one ability to create shots from thin air. The remaining Cavaliers, Love included, are left filling roles as floor spacers, screeners, defenders and rebounders. Love’s selflessness is admirable, but a couple of signature playoff performances in the later rounds would greatly aid his legacy. If Love wins another ring, however, it should cement his place in the NBA Hall of Fame when you take his overall body of work into account. And for an “overrated” player, that’s not half bad.









About Patrick Graziosi

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