Monday, December 11, 2006

Scouting the Love

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to watch UCLA recruit Kevin Love, considered to be the No. 2 high-school player in the country (behind O.J. Mayo) by most, as his Lake Oswego (Ore.) Lakers (from the Portland area) were in the Seattle area to take on Franklin H.S. in a matchup of last year's state champions from Oregon and Washington state.

I always try to see prep players who are considered to have pro potential when I can, and I must say that Love is one of the most unique young players I've seen. I find it hard to classify him, frankly.

Love had 36 points, 19 rebounds and I-wish-I-knew-how-many assists as Lake Oswego held off Franklin 69-62 in a game of wildly contrasting styles. Franklin is deep and athletic and well-coached, and they play tough pressure defense - often full-court.

Lake Oswego, somewhat amazingly for a team ranked No. 11 in the U.S. by SI.com, really had very mediocre athletes surrounding Love (with the exception of point guard Ernie Spada, who did a great job handling the pressure, and also knocked down some big shots). Their offense consisted of two things:

1. Going inside to K-Love.
Love is listed at 6-10/255 and man, it is a rugged 255. The kid's arms and upper body are as massive as you're going to see on any H.S. player who's not an offensive tackle moonlighting on a winter sport. Franklin did a nice job taking charges/flopping to draw some fouls, but mostly, Love was just too sound with his footwork and post moves inside, including a beauty of a spin move in the second half.

2. Fast breaks due entirely to K-Love outlet passes. Many observers have commented that Love throws outlet passes better than anyone since Wes Unseld. I'm too young to be qualified to make an Unseld comparison, but let me just say that these passes were an absolute thing to behold.

Love would get the rebound, turn, scan the court like a QB and fire a pass 40...50...60 feet downcourt to a teammate to set up a fast break. And he did it over and over and over again. I've really never seen anything like it. The kid was also a good passer in the halfcourt - he found one backdoor cutter along the baseline with a gorgeous bounce pass that he threw from near halfcourt.

He also has a nice touch on the foul line - and I've read that he can hit the three, although he didn't shoot any on Sat. Just an utterly fundamentally sound kid, and a really great teammate, too - you couldn't have blamed him if he'd gotten down on his teammates after they failed to finish on some of his outlet passes, and otherwise had trouble competing with Franklin, but he just kept encouraging his guys all game, and I think that his encouragement helped his guys keep their poise against Franklin's withering D, and ultimately helped win them the game.

All that said, I was really underwhelmed by Love's athleticism, and wonder if it's going to prevent him from being an impact player on the NBA level. Yes, he finished a nice reverse alley-oop, and yes he made some nice moves out on the floor (a testament to his ballhandling fundamentals as much as anything), but there's just a certain explosiveness, quickness and agility that he lacks currently.

In my mind, it's going to be all about his coach. I could see him succeeding if he's used similar to the way Karl Malone was in Utah's heyday - on the high post where he can use his passing and shooting ability, and his big body to play some PnR. And of course, he's going to need a coach who can take advantage of those beautiful outlet passes.

But, if he's used as a standard big, I think he's going to have trouble being more than a journeyman. I talked to a friend after the game who described him as a "classic, Mike Montgomery-era Stanford kind of player" and I'd have to agree. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, though, K-Love's headed to Westwood.

One last note - it's quite a year for Oregon (pronounced ore-GUN, not ore-GONE, you East Coasters) hoops as Love is rated No. 2 in the country and Kyle Singler (Duke) from Medford, Ore. is rated No. 5.

See below for more reading on Love. [Also FYI, Love is this year's high school diarist in SLAM.]

- Seattle Times: Lake Oswego's Love too tough for Franklin
(Game story)

- Seattle Times: No stopping power of Love
(Game preview)

- Oregonian: All they need is Love
(Love profile from signing day)

- ESPN.com: Love tops initial ESPN 150 rankings
(Scouting report by ex-NBA coach John Carroll is definitely worth a read)

- Draft Express: Thoughts on the Star Prospects of Day Two
(Scouting reports from this summer on this year's top 4 H.S. seniors, including Love)

- MySpace.com: The Official Kevin Love MySpace Page
(I have no idea if this is real or not but either way it's quite entertaining)

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