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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Kevin Love and His Magical, Cancer-Curing Outlet Passes

No, no Kevin. Blocking shots simply will not do

There was a lot of hype surrounding Kevin Love's divine entrance into the college basketball arena. And since I had seen very little of him in high school, I was forced to learn about Love through scouting reports and glowing features. They said he had a great basketball IQ, used his body well, played hard, had great post moves and had tremendous rebounding technique, which is to say, he was white. It was Love's throwback style stuffed into the body of a modern big man that had Bruins fans channeling Bill Walton. And the outlet passes. Oh, the outlet passes. As straight as Orion's arrow or a bolt of lightning from Zeus on high, Love's outlet passes rained down upon opponents with godlike precision, hitting teammates in stride and lifting them involuntarily toward the rim as they never have before. Now Love was Wes Unseld, a guy no one alive has ever seen play and whose outlet passing ability was completely obscured until Young Kevin (as Brent Musberger calls him) came around. Kinda like the recent appreciation of Chuck Norris' badassedness riding a Conan O'Brien-induced resurgence, suddenly Wes Unseld was widely considered the greatest outlet passer ever, simply because we needed someone for which to compare Love (when you Google search "Wes Unseld, outless pass" the second item is about Kevin Love). His outlet passes were like a relic from the past, using all the greatness of the past to dominate in the present.

So when Kevin Love finally took the court as a Bruin, his very unique scouting report formed a specific idea of what he would play like. Even though I knew what he looked like, I automatically assumed he would have a crew cut. He would catch the ball in the high post and mesmerize the defender by moving the ball all over the place and then zip a pass to a cutting teammate, like Walton did. He would have short shorts. He would shoot a set shot. To get a rebound he would stick his ass really far out, catch the ball, pivot and stick his elbows really far out to protect the ball. Then he would fire an outlet pass and that music from the old, grainy NBA Classic films would play (for some reason in my head this music sounds very similar to the Harlem Globetrotters theme). His post moves would be very deft but very fundamental; two dribbles into the lane, pump-fake, jump hook, cash. Unstoppability in its simplest form. He would shoot foul shots underhanded. This might sound ridiculous, but judging by this "throwback" style I had heard so much about and that his best quality was supposedly these Wes Unseld outlet passes, I had no reason to expect any typicality from Love. The legend said he was to be some big white guy, beamed from the past to coexist on the same plane as the highflyers and crossover artists.

Then I watched him play. He had a chinstrap. He shot threes. He movement wasn't labored at all, in fact, the quickness and ease of his passes were comparable to Steve Nash or Chris Paul. His rebounds and post moves were based more on body positioning and quick feet than simply being bigger than others. He seemed to be a modern but skilled big man, a lot like Tyler Hansbrough except more of a true post man or a shorter Tim Duncan (and not as good, obviously), both of whom are certainly fundamentally sound but not exactly anachronistic. Patience, I thought, once those famed outlet passes come, I shall see the light; I will appreciate Love's game on a much more cerebral level. It wasn't how he got things done, it was how he approached the game. And the outlet pass is a perfect example of that approach, one that no one else could even sniff. So I waited.

... And waited, and waited. He threw a couple long passes to Westbrook and Collison and the announcers pants bulged but ultimately the opponent (I'm not referencing a specific game but just the act of watching Love play) recovered well enough to stop the attack. So time passed and I expected the other virtues of Love's game to get some more pub. His incredible tenacity on the offensive boards, his great body positioning when catching the ball in the post, his offensively centric passing from the elbow, his ability to turn low-percentage scoring opportunities into foul shots. You know, practical shit. But nope, announcers, analysts and writers kept harping on outlet passes. If he busted out one or two great ones per game they were the "plays of the game" and were examples of "what made him so special." There were myths of his 94-foot chest passes that could hit the opposite backboard. It sounded cool, but didn't seem to make any sense. Kevin Love is not a great player because of his outlet passes and yet if a casual fan was asked to analyze Kevin Love to another casual fan, he would say, "Oh, the dude's got a chinstrap but he throws these awesome outlet passes."

So ultimately the whole point of why this sucks is that it completely misrepresents Kevin Love's game. Yes, in high school those type of passes can completely change a game, vitalize a fast break and get easy buckets. But in college, players are quicker and in the NBA they are really quicker. Consistent fast breaks come off turnovers and quick point guards, not outlet passes. So when you assess Love's NBA prospects, which many people have been critical of lately, he's suddenly this guy whose best quality is an outlet pass, something that isn't going to get him anywhere in the pros. Thus, common perception is: Love is a poor NBA prospect. Now, it's not all because of outlet passes, but that aspect is representative of a greater conception, that Kevin Love is a white, all-that's-right-with-basketball, player; just some big, pudgy kid that worked his ass off shooting and passing the ball as a kid. It puts him in contrast to his familiar "rival" OJ Mayo, a black kid with natural talent and an completely false public perception of showboating and laziness. Like Bill Simmons wrote last year, it would be some racial, old vs. new rivalry and it has become that but it's been completely perpetuated by the media. And by touting those outlet passes, analysts are just accepting the easiest, most attractive persona to give Kevin Love. The logic is: Most college basketball fans are old and white > old white people hate new flashy black players > outlet passes are an attribute of old, white basketball players > most fans will really like Kevin Love >... profit.

This type of shit is done constantly in the media, especially on ESPN. Come up with easily understandable and identifiable talking points, distribute them to the uninformed masses and watch as they assume those same opinions and gain interest in said storylines. To the average fan, Kevin Love is a big white outlet passer who works really hard and will overcome the black overlords that are trying to take over our game. And while no one will say this outright, they are thinking it. The ironic result is, because no one is expected to like his personality, a guy like OJ Mayo is touted for his natural ability, which is exactly what Kevin Love deserves. "Mayo is an unlikable lazy thug," the perception goes, "but if he actually shows some effort game you'll see something really cool! So watch anyway!"

I suppose this is a nice image for Love to have in terms of marketing, but if he's like most players and wants his all-around game to be appreciated, maybe he should get arrested or at least shove a ref or something.

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  • At February 22, 2008 8:35 AM , Blogger Aaron said...

    Nice post, keep it up I really enjoy reading your blog. Love is tearing it up and is very fun to watch. With or without the outlet passes.

  • At February 24, 2008 11:23 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Nice writing. A fun read. You know your basketball. But - I think you're wrong here. The mere threat of the extremely fast outlet pass sending the action in the other direction means fewer bodies crashing the offensive boards and fewer drives to the hoop. As for announcers going nuts about the passing - I'm with 'em because I think a spectacular outlet pass from the Unseld school is a pretty stunning physical feat. I KNOW what an amazing dunk looks like because I DOZENS for every time Sportcenter goes "da da da...da da da." If dunks cured cancer...well...cancer would pretty much be cured by now. So I disagree with your dis on outlet passing....but I do agree that Love is tearing it up. Outlet passes and all.


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