MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Even as Kevin Love emerged as an All-Star last season and the best rebounder in the NBA, there were always whispers about limitations.
Love couldn’t create his own shot, the whispers went, and he struggled on the defensive end and therefore couldn’t be considered a No. 1 option on a contending team. Even the first 30-point, 30-rebound game since 1982 and 53 double-doubles in a row were qualified by doubters as good numbers on a bad team.
So one of the big questions surrounding the Minnesota Timberwolves this season was whether Love was a player worthy of a maximum salary extension.
He is quickly putting those questions to rest.
Love is averaging 25.7 points and 15.0 rebounds, and is the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 to score at least 20 points and grab at least 12 rebounds in his first six games of the season.
“He’s one of the great young players in this game,” Heat star Dwyane Wade said. “He just looks better and better and better every time you see him on film. You get to watch ESPN and see Kevin Love, 20 and 16, 28 and 30, it’s amazing what this guy does.”
He had 27 points and 14 rebounds in a 90-86 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night, and it somehow seemed routine by the lofty standards that Love is establishing for himself.
“That shows you how truly good he is,” forward Anthony Tolliver said. “He’s come a long way, especially on the defensive end, and is doing a heck of a job and just really trying to lead us.”
Love has continued adding to his game just as he has every offseason. Love lost 25 pounds and is noticeably trimmer, quicker and in better shape. He has also added a step-back jumper and a turnaround bank shot to his game that allows him to create space between himself and the defender.
“Unbelievable,” point guard Ricky Rubio said. “The word that you can say it’s amazing, unbelievable. Somebody’s going to shoot and if he miss, he take the rebound. If you hit him, he’s going to score wherever — 3, a post-up. He’s playing great and I love to play with him.”
The Timberwolves have until Jan. 25 to reach a long-term extension with Love. If they don’t, he can become a restricted free agent after this season.
But the feeling around Target Center these days is that it’s a matter of when — not if — a deal gets done. Team president David Kahn has expressed optimism from the start, saying several times since the lockout ended that Love will be in a Timberwolves uniform for many years.
“I just put it aside and figure if I go out there and play and try to help the team win, everything will take care of itself,” Love said Thursday. “I’m not really focusing on that right now. I’m just focusing on Cleveland tomorrow.”
And where it was once thought that Love would want to test the free agent waters in hopes of playing for a winner, the addition of Rubio, coach Rick Adelman and No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams have vastly improved one of the league’s most downtrodden franchises. Love has clearly been energized by the additions.
The Wolves are just 2-4 heading into the game Friday night against Cleveland, but they’ve lost those four games by a combined total of 13 points. Three of those losses have come against Oklahoma City, Miami and Memphis.
“I think as far as being a Timberwolf, we’re playing the best basketball as a team” since he arrived in 2008, Love said. “I know that doesn’t always show up in wins, but we’re right there. … We keep saying we’re knocking at the door. We’re right there and we’re playing a good brand of basketball.”
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, whose Mavericks gave up 25 points and 17 rebounds to Love in a loss on Sunday, said Love is a player who comes along “once every 10, 15 years.”
“He’s got to be face-guarded,” Carlisle said. “Basically what you’re saying is you’re going to go one man down to make sure that he doesn’t get the ball. … He’s picked up his game a lot in a lot of other areas. He’s an All-Star player. Terrific.”
The Timberwolves still could use an end-of-the-game scorer who can break down a defense and create his own shot, but Adelman thinks Love will only get better as the staff implements more of its offense.
“It’s been mostly him,” Adelman said. “He’s kind of fit in because we’re really not running a lot of stuff. We haven’t put much of our offense in. … We hope we have a lot more balance than we have right now.”
Notes: Tolliver did not practice on Thursday because of a sprained right wrist and sore back from a nasty fall he took against Memphis. He is questionable for the game against the Cavs on Friday night. … G JJ Barea did some practicing and will be a game-time decision.
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