This year it seems as though the race for Most Improved Player has more legitimate candidates than any race in recent memory. Jeremy Lin, Ersan Ilyasova, Nikola Pekovic, Ryan Anderson, and Greg Monroe are only a handful of the names in the conversation. But there is one candidate that is getting no ink (at least on this topic): Kevin Love.
That’s right, last year’s Most Improved Player should be in the running for this year’s award as well.
Wait a minute, is that even possible? Can one player really improve so drastically from one season to the next and win the award, only to improve once again the following season in a similarly extreme manner? It seems impossible…and that’s exactly why Love should be in the running for the award.
Love improved his numbers from 14.0 ppg and 11.0 rpg in 2009-2010 to 20.2 and 15.2, respectively, in 2010-2011. Love made the quintessential leap from average player to very good player, a move that most often garners attention for this award.
However, the fourth year player up in Minnesota has made an even more impressive leap this season: the one to franchise player.
Last year, when Love won the award, I thought Love was a damn good player, but he had plenty of faults. He had reached his ceiling. He was putting up great numbers, but for a terrible team. He was not the kind of player a franchise could build around.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Instead, he is 4th in the league in scoring at 26.5 and 2nd in rebounds at 13.5. He put up numbers in March that the NBA has never seen before, averaging 30.7 ppg and 13.9 rpg all while shooting 45% from 3.
Love is one of the most difficult players to defend in the league. His game can single-handedly change the shape of a game. His mere presence on the court makes countless others better. Sure, he doesn’t make his teammates better in terms of traditional measures, but just ask Pekovic, Wayne Ellington, Luke Ridnour along with Love’s other teammates what kind of effect he can have on their games. I guarantee they would tell you that the focus defenses put on him has led to infinitely more quality shots for everyone on the team.
Last year, Love put up great numbers on a horrendous team. This year, he is putting up once-in-a-generation numbers for a team that would be in playoff contention if not for its losing battle against the injury bug.
He has carried the Timberwolves from worst team in the league to playoff contender, all while he transformed from good to great.
The real problem is that, for whatever the reason, this transformation, arguably the toughest to achieve in sports, is rarely one that garners a player votes for Most Improved Player. Of course, Love is certainly getting his fair share of publicity, with several pundits listing him in the top 3 in the MVP race. And that’s the crux of the problem here: it is unthinkable that a player who is now considered one of the best in the game could really have improved that drastically…TWICE.
Believe it or not, it’s happening in front of your eyes and there is no indication Love is slowing down. Let’s just hope voters catch on in time for the voting for next season’s award.