For Kevin Love, touted by my colleague John Gasaway for NCAA Player of the Year during his lone collegiate season at UCLA, the transition to the NBA has been a mixed bag. As expected, the combination of undersized big men Love and Al Jefferson has been problematic defensively for the Timberwolves.
What’s been a bit more of a surprise is how much Love has struggled to make shots against the NBA’s long, athletic post players. Love is making 41.0 percent of his two-point shots, definitely on the low side for an NBA big man. According to 82games.com, a full 14 percent of Love’s shot attempts this season have been blocked, including one in four of his non-dunk attempts in the paint.
Elsewhere, Love has been very productive, most notably so on the offensive glass. Reader Seth Stevens e-mailed in recently to point out that Love is on pace to become the first rookie since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984-85 to lead the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage, having secured 16.6 percent of available misses so far this season. (Chicago reserve Aaron Gray is at 16.8 percent, but in limited minutes, making him ineligible.)
Let’s take a look at where Love ranks amongst leaders in rookie offensive rebounding dating back to 1980 (minimum 500 minutes):
Player Year OReb% Min
Larry Smith 80-81 18.3 2578
Popeye Jones 93-94 17.6 1773
Chris Dudley 87-88 17.5 513
Hakeem Olajuwon 84-85 16.9 2914
Malik Rose 96-97 16.7 525
KEVIN LOVE 08-09 16.6 1921*
Charles Oakley 85-86 15.7 1772
Leon Powe 06-07 15.7 725
Michael Ansley 89-80 15.7 1221
Dennis Rodman 86-87 15.6 1155
* prorated to 82 games
Larry Smith, aka “Mr. Mean,” also led the NBA in offensive rebound percentage as a rookie in 1980-81 (the third player to do it was John Drew in 1974-75, though his 14.4 OReb% is relatively paltry by these standards). Add in Popeye Jones and you have the group of three players who have hit the offensive glass harder as rookie regulars than Love.
Now, there’s surely something of a correlation between the two statistics I’ve cited for Love. A lot of those close-range misses and blocks are ending up back in his hands for a second attempt (or, as I call it, the old Moses Malone play; his alleged stad-padding worked, seeing as Malone led the league in offensive rebounding seven times in his first eight NBA seasons). Surely, the Timberwolves would be OK with seeing Love’s offensive rebound percentage decline as his shooting percentage climbs. For the time being, Love is having a historic rookie campaign in one regard.