Kevin Love Needs to Improve his Teammate Acquisition Skills, Not his Leadership

Steve McPherson — at ESPN.com’s TrueHoop — recently wrote an article comparing Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love.   He begins with the following observation…

There’s an old Kevin Garnett ad that you’ll likely remember if you were anywhere around basketball 10 years ago. Garnett and a friend walk out of a dry cleaner, and the friend begins to climb awkwardly and sort of surprisingly onto Garnett’s back. As Garnett walks the streets of a city that is clearly not Minneapolis, to the tune of “He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands,” people keep piling on top of him, turning him into a top-heavy mass of humanity, all while maintaining a cheery enough disposition to throw a “what’s up” chuck of his head to a disbelieving woman.

It was a simple but effective metaphor for Garnett’s identity on the Minnesota Timberwolves before everything began to unravel. The first time I saw it, it made me feel good about Garnett and, by extension, the team. Garnett wanted the work, wanted the weight. “Jump on,” the spot seemed to say. “We’re going there together.” 

McPherson later makes this observation:

Kevin Love has never engendered the same kind of confidence. It’s not just because of the Wolves’ inability to get into the playoffs during Love’s first six years in the league, although that’s part of it for some. For all his immense and indisputable talent, for all his record-setting performances, for all his expressed desire to be the kind of leader the Wolves have needed during his time with the team, Love is simply not a guy to carry a team and its city on his back. 

As Matthew Yglesias described this article as follows: A sort of bonkers ESPN piece features the idea that “Minnesota has been in search of a savior since KG, but shouldering the load isn’t Kevin Love’s thing.”

Yglesias argues that given how Love’s pay is constrained by the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement (a CBA that exists partly because Garnett’s pay was not tremendously constrained), it is not surprising that Love does not want to stay and lead a bad Timberwolves team.

Although Yglesias makes a good point, I want to question the actual comparison McPherson is making.  Love has played in Minnesota for six seasons.  Across these six seasons, Love and his teammates have offered the following:

 

Season

Love’s

Minutes

Love’s

WP48

Love’s

 Wins Produced

Teammates

Wins Produced

2013-14

2,797

0.257

15.0

33.2

2012-13

618

0.064

0.8

33.6

2011-12

2,145

0.196

8.8

19.5

2010-11

2,611

0.335

18.2

5.0

2009-10

1,714

0.251

9.0

6.4

2008-09

2,048

0.160

6.8

21.0

Totals and Averages

11,933

0.236

58.6

118.7

 

Love entered the NBA at 20 years of age (after one year of college).  So Love is 25 years old today.  Garnett came to the Timberwolves in 1995 at 19 years of age.  And here is what Garnett did for Minnesota up until the time he was 25 years old.

 

Season

KG’s

Minutes

KG’s

WP48

KG’s

Wins Produced

Teammates

Wins Produced

2001-02

3,175

0.237

15.7

34.3

2000-01

3,202

0.175

11.7

33.6

1999-00

3,243

0.197

13.3

34.7

1998-99

1,780

0.179

6.6

18.8

1997-98

3,222

0.190

12.8

30.4

1996-97

2,995

0.165

10.3

26.7

1995-96

2,293

0.164

7.8

18.8

Totals and Averages

19,910

0.189

78.2

197.3

 

Up to the age of 25, Garnett

  • posted a lower WP48 than Love
  • had better teammates than Love

More specifically, Garnett’s teammates averaged 28.2 wins per season while Love’s teammates only average 19.8 wins produced.

So was Garnett carrying the Timberwolves more than Love? If we compare the players at the same point in their careers, I think the numbers say Love carried his teammates more.

Of course, McPherson wasn’t comparing the players at the same point in their careers.  In 2003-04, Garnett was 27 years old.   That season, KG produced 19.9 wins while his teammates produced 35.6 wins.

After that season, Garnett began to “carry” the Timberwolves.  From 2004-05 to 2006-07, Garnett produced 52.7 wins while his teammates only produced 59.5.  So in his last three years in Minnesota, KG produced nearly half of the team’s wins.

My sense is that McPherson is remembering those years in his recollection of KG.  Just like Love, when KG was burdened with less productive teammates his team got to lose more often than KG would have liked. And just like Love, KG decided to leave.

McPherson, though, seems to think that Love should simply be more of a leader.  And if that happened, somehow Love would make his less able teammates more productive.

But I tend to think that is not going to happen.  Although there are some interaction effects between teammates; in general, a player cannot dramatically impact the production of their teammates.  Players that are not productive — like Jose Barea and Corey Brewer (two players who have always been below average) — are not suddenly going to be more productive because Love becomes a better “leader”.

If Love wants to win consistently, he is simply going to need better teammates.  That could happen if Minnesota acquired more productive players.  After six years, though, Love has lost faith in the people making decisions in Minnesota.  So just like Garnett, Love seems set on a second option.

Exercise better teammate acquisition skills and go join a team that already has better players.

- DJ

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