The defense for and against Kevin Love


(Jim Mone/Associated Press)

As the New York Knicks continue to spiral down the Eastern Conference standings and the prospect of Carmelo Anthony bolting the Big Apple this summer increasing with every loss, some Knicks fans have turned their hopes to Kevin Love.

The Minnesota Timberwolves forward can opt out of his contract and become a free agent in 2015, with the Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers serving as likely suitors for the stat-stuffing Love. But if Knicks center Tyson Chandler hopes to have Love join him in the future, he sure has an interesting way of showing it.

During a interview at halftime of New York’s 118-106 win against Minnesota on Wednesday, Chandler was asked how he tries to exploit Love at the offensive end. “Go at him. He can’t play D,” Chandler exclaimed before walking off the court.

As the 2012 defensive player of the year, Chandler’s claim comes from a place of authority. But are Love’s defensive struggles enough to make teams think twice about pursuing him as a franchise player?

The intrigue surrounding Love begins with his unique offensive prowess. In averaging a career-high 26.5 points per game, good for fourth in the NBA, Love is shooting 37.7 percent on three-pointers and has already recorded a career-high 14 games with at least four three-point baskets. His efficiency from behind the arc makes him tough for opponents to guard and would stretch the floor for a team like the Knicks or Lakers, who already feature capable post players.

The UCLA product also has a knack for getting to the foul line. Of the top 10 scorers in the league, only Kevin Durant (9.9) and James Harden (8.7) attempt more free throws per game than Love’s 8.6 through Wednesday, according to NBA.com/stats.

Many of those opportunities stem from Love’s rebounding proficiency, which has helped him record a league-high 50 double-doubles. At 13.1 rebounds per game and 19.6 rebound chances per contest, Love ranks second in the league, according to NBA.com’s player tracking stats. Of those rebound chances, Love grabs 66.8 percent of them and 37.8 percent of those that were contested by other players.

But while Love is racking up offensive numbers on one end, some might argue that the Timberwolves often suffer at his expense on defense.

Few would label Love as an “athletic” player, so his average of 0.4 blocks per game is understandable within his range of skills. But as Chandler alluded to, Love has struggled to slow opponents in the post, allowing players to shoot 57.6 percent on an average of 8.1 shots defended by him at the rim per game.

The Timberwolves’ defensive numbers do take a hit with Love out of the lineup. In those instances, Minnesota scores 94.4 points per 100 possessions and gives up 104.0 points, making for a net rating of minus-9.6. But while the Timberwolves’ offensive production spikes to 109.1 with Love on the floor, their defensive rating falls just slightly to 102.4. In other words, it’s likely Love’s offense rather than his defensive prowess that closes the gap for Minnesota.

With the NBA now dominated less by centers and more by forwards in the versatile mold of Love, the Lakers’ Pau Gasol, the Clippers’ Blake Griffin and Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge, having a strong interior defense is critical to a team’s success.

But a closer examination of Minnesota’s numbers show that Love is not necessarily a defensive liability. The Timberwolves rank seventh in the NBA in rebounds allowed per 100 possessions with 43.2, demonstrating the second-chance opportunities that Love eliminates. And although Minnesota is currently outside the playoff picture, its defensive rating of 102.8 ranks 12th best, making it one of just three non-playoff teams in the top 15.

Ultimately, teams coveting Love’s potential arrival on the free agent market next year know what they are getting: a superior scorer and rebounder with pedestrian athleticism and defensive skills. But for teams fighting for relevancy in the NBA standings, a player of Love’s caliber is a worthy prize.

BY THE NUMBERS
127
Consecutive games in which Atlanta’s Kyle Korver made at least one three-pointer before the NBA-record streak was broken in Wednesday’s loss to Portland. Korver, who went 0 for 5 in the game, bested Dana Barros’s mark by 38 games.

21
Minutes it took Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook to record a triple-double of 13 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists in Tuesday’s win against Philadelphia. The guard’s feat is the second-fastest in NBA history behind Jim Tucker, who needed just 17 minutes to record a triple-double in 1955 for the Syracuse Nationals.

QUOTABLE
“It felt like I had a golf ball, throwing it in the ocean.”

– Miami Heat forward LeBron James following his career-high 61-point performance in Monday’s win against Charlotte. James set a franchise record for points in a game, a quarter (25) and a half (37) and shot 22 for 33 from the field, including 8 for 10 from three-point range.

“Sometimes in timeouts I’ll say, ‘I’ve got nothing for you. What do you want me to do? We just turned it over six times. Everybody’s holding the ball. What else do you want me to do here? Figure it out.’”

–  San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, during a media session before Wednesday’s game against Cleveland, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Brandon Parker is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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