First, I can simply give this one the “eyeball test”. Bird and Love are very different players merely based upon having seen both of them play. Some glaring differences:
• Position – Bird was a 3 or 4 who could handle like a point; Love’s a 4/5.
• Shooting – Bird was a phenomenal outside shooter, Love shoots solid-for-his-size, but pedestrian, 35% from the college 3pt line. Yes, I’ve seen the full-court shot footage, and no, I don’t believe that it’s relevant, despite its impressiveness.
• Passing – Love passes well, for his size, Bird’s one of the greatest passers ever to play the game, regardless of position. Love’s assist to turnover ratio was about even this year, Bird, at his peak, was about 2.5 – 1, averaging about 8 assists a game.
• Ball-handling – Bird could play as a point-forward, Love never will.
• Clutch – Love was last seen wheezing his way up the court against Memphis. Bird was a stone-cold killer in big games, as evidenced by his 2 NBA Finals MVP trophies.
• Defense – Bird was 3X NBA All-Defense 2nd Team. He averaged about 2 steals a game for his career, which is outstanding. He wasn’t shutting people down, but he was great at positioning and playing the passing lanes. Love is slow, his arms are short, and he didn’t even average a steal per game in college. He will be an average defender, at best, at the next level. Bird, at his peak, was certainly an above-average defender.
• Draft status – Bird was so great that he was taken 6th overall when the Celtics knew they’d have to wait a year for him; Love is projected as a late lottery pick, at best.
There are a few similarities:
• Skin color
• Rebounding #’s
• High basketball IQ’s, though I’m not saying Love matches Bird
• Post-scoring, though I’d certainly give Bird an edge here as well
Now that I’ve broken down how Love differs from Bird, I’ll break down why he won’t match Bird’s success at the next level. First off, I’ve already presented a mountain of evidence as to why Kevin Love, as a 6’9”+ white guy, will NOT succeed in the NBA. This is detailed very thoroughly in a previous column, “No! Not the Big White Guy!”. Also, Love’s college numbers pale in comparison to Bird. Granted, Bird was almost a one-man show, while Love was on a very talented UCLA team, but that being said, I still regard Bird as the far superior college player. Finally, Love’s 0.7 Steals Per Game and 1.4 Blocks Per Game are very low numbers for a prospective pro, indicative of the lack of athleticism that will hurt him at the next level. The following is a chart of Love’s stats compared to a random sampling of other players who put up similar college #’s:
College Stats (Career highs, not averages, except for shooting percentages)
As you can see, Love does have a couple of things going for him here, as his rebounding #’s are superior, he’s one of the better free throw shooters, and he’s also the only one on this list to come out after his freshman year. He’s also regarded as a great outlet passer, which is something that won’t be quantified in the assist #’s most of the time. The glaring weakness of Love’s is those overall defensive numbers, indicating an inferior athleticism to players like Troy Murphy, Brian Cook, and Nick Collison. His closest comparison defensively is Jason Collier, who had a bad pro career. The only above-average NBA player on the above list is Brad Daugherty, who was a very different athlete and player than Kevin Love. The closest professional comparison will, in my estimation, probably end up being Troy Murphy, who’s been a solid player on mostly losing teams.
Kevin Love will be a solid pro. I envision him, in a best-case scenario, as the 2nd or 3rd best player on a good team. He brings enough skills and intangibles to be an above-average power forward in the NBA; slightly superior to the more athletic, but less skilled, Troy Murphy. If Love plays 10-15 years, contributes to some playoff teams, and perhaps plays in an All-Star game or two, he will have had a good career and have proved himself worthy of being chosen between the 5th and 15th picks in this year’s draft. That’s a fine career, and one that could certainly happen if he’s in the right place at the right time. However, it pales in comparison to Larry Bird’s 12 All-Star games, 3 MVP awards, 3 NBA championships, and his 1st ballot induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Kevin Love, like the other members of WALL, will soon be exposed as somebody who doesn’t hold a candle to one Larry Joe Bird.