Kevin Love and the Myth of Natural Ability

The NBA did its annual GM Survey. It’s without surprise that I was unimpressed. The same group that year after year thinks Kobe should take the last shot (they wised up this year and put him 2nd) does not instill much confidence. There was one category I had to do a double take:

Which player makes the most of limited natural ability?

1. Kevin Love, Minnesota — 34.5%

And it wasn’t even close. Kevin Love beat out the number two spot by 24.5%. My question is, what does this even mean? I figured I’d go as close as possible to data on raw talent — the combine data. Draft Express has a rundown of basic player stats. I thought I’d do a comparison of Kevin Love to an old favorite: LaMarcus Aldridge. I’ve also tacked on Blake Griffin. This gives us three players in the Western Conference, who made the All-Star Game. Love and Griffin also made All-NBA.

Stats courtesy of Draft Express — Aldridge’s Stats — Griffin’s Stats — Love’s Stats
Full explanation of combine tests here.

Test Kevin Love LaMarcus Aldridge Blake Griffin
 Height w/o Shoes  6′ 7.8′ (3) 6′ 10”  (1)  6′ 8.5” (2)
 Height w/ Shoes  6′ 9.5” (3)  6′ 11.3” (1)  6′ 10” (2)
 Weight  255 (1)  234 (3)  248 (2)
 Wingspan  6′ 11.3” (1T)  7′ 4.8” (3)  6′ 11.3” (1T)
 Standing Reach  8′ 10” (2)  9′ 2” (1)  8′ 9” (3)
 Body Fat  12.9 (3)  8.7 (2)  8.2 (1)
 No Step Vert  29.5 (2)  26.5 (3)  32.0 (1)
 Max Vert  35.0 (2)  34.0 (3)  35.5 (1)
 Bench Press  18 (2)  8 (3)  22 (1)
 Lane Agility  11.2 (2)  12.0 (3)  11.0 (1)
 3/4 Court Sprint  3.2 (1)  3.4 (3)  3.3 (2)

When we compare Kevin Love to LaMarcus Aldridge, we see that he’s shorter and “fatter”. Comparing him to Blake Griffin, we see Love is a little shorter (but his wingspan and standing reach are better.) However, he is better at all of the tests of ability when compared to Aldridge. It is worth noting that Blake Griffin does beat Love on the physical tests, except the 3/4 court sprint. What’s also worth noting is that the margin by which Kevin Love loses to Griffin is far less than the margin than the margin Aldridge loses to Love by.

The out GMs have is that “Natural Ability” is not defined well. However, I have no idea what GMs think it is. Kevin Love is a tall player that is very quick. He’s also pretty strong. In fact, barring a little extra weight, his “raw” numbers aren’t that far off from Blake Griffin. Really, the problem with Kevin Love is one Patrick Minton brings up frequently. Kevin Love doesn’t look like what GMs expect. Arturo has named this problem “the lanky white guy problem.” Now, it’s ok to feel uncomfortable with this claim. At the same time, here’s a visual break down of the GMs’ voting, which makes up over 50% of the vote.

The simple truth is saying that Kevin Love doesn’t have natural ability makes little sense. As Patrick responded when he saw this — Why isn’t Isaiah Thomas on this list? After all, he’s under 6 feet in shoes, 187 pounds and slower down the court than Kevin Love. The polite response is that GMs don’t know how to properly analyze players that defy their expectations. Sadly though, I’m more than a little inclined to lean towards Arturo’s reason.


One last thing worth noting. While GMs may vote strangely on issues like these, the data has not shown a connection between race and pay. So, while GMs may not like how players like Kevin Love look, they do seem fine to pay them market value.

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