Sunday, April 29, 2012

Vikings 2012 Rookie Class Video Collection

No. 4 - Matt Kalil, LT, USC (6'6", 306 lbs.)

No. 29 - Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame (6'2", 213 lbs.)

No. 66 - Josh Robinson, CB, UCF (5'10", 199 lbs.)

No. 118 - Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas (5'10", 180 lbs.)

No. 128 - Rhett Ellison, TE/FB, USC (6'5", 251 lbs.)

No. 134 - Greg Childs, WR, Arkansas (6'3", 219 lbs.)

No. 139 - Robert Blanton DB, Notre Dame (6'1", 208 lbs.)

No. 175 - Blair Walsh, K, Georgia (5'9", 187 lbs.)

No. 210 - Audie Cole, LB, NC State (6'4", 246 lbs.)

No. 219 - Trevor Guyton, DE, California (6'3", 285 lbs.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Early Season Twins Thoughts

By Matt Tschida

Time for Valencia/Burroughs Platoon?
I never really bought into the Danny Valencia hype back when he was among the Twins' top minor league prospects. His career minor league production wasn't great, but rather solid, with an average of .298 and an OBP of .353. Moreover, the most home runs he ever hit in one season was 17. Granted, if he could hit .298 with 15-20 home runs while playing solid defense, the Twins would be thrilled. The problem is that he's gotten pull-happy, which has made it easy for opposing teams to pitch him away. 

When Valencia stays focused on using the whole field, he can drive balls to both gaps for extra base hits, as he did in his rookie season when he hit .311 in 85 games. Valencia's lack of focus at the plate has been coupled with struggles in the field, which is something we grew accustomed to last year. 

So far this season, Valencia is already a -3 in the defensive runs saved—a stat that shows how many runs a player saves (or gives up) defensively compared to the average defender. Last season, Valencia was 13 runs saved below the average third baseman. If he's not pulling his share of the load at the plate or in the field, there's no reason to continue to trot him out to third base on an everyday basis. With Terry Ryan taking over, the “scholarship” era was supposed to be over. Other than Valencia’s 85 games as a rookie, he hasn’t done anything to warrant the opportunities he continues to get from this club. 

My solution for the immediate future would be to start platooning Valencia with Sean Burroughs. Burroughs is the far superior fielder, and could face right handed pitchers (career .290 hitter vs. right handed pitchers) while Valencia would play against left handed pitchers (career .327 hitter vs. LHP compared to .241 vs. RHP). Considering how much the Twins' pitching staff relies on its defense, they would be better served with the sure-handed Burroughs playing the hot corner more often.

Terry Ryan’s Signings Off to a Good Start
Despite the team's early season woes, Terry Ryan's offseason signings have gotten off to solid starts. Josh Willingham, the hottest Twins' bat, has shown that he can fill the void left by Cuddyer by hitting .311 with 5 home runs and 12 RBIs. Ryan Doumit and Jamey Carroll have also produced early. Doumit, who gives Gardenhire much-needed flexibility with his ability to play C/OF/1B, is hitting .245, but is second on the team with his 10 RBI so far. Carroll, whose ability to play shortstop full time was questioned, has stabilized the infield and while coming up with some clutch hits (he’s hitting only .245, but is fourth on the team with an OBP of .338).

The pitching that was added this offseason has also gotten off to a good start. In his two starts so far, Jason Marquis has done what the Twins expect from him; pitch into the 6th or 7th inning and give the Twins a chance to win. The three bullpen arms added (Jeff Gray, Jared Burton and Matt Maloney) have all succeeded in their early roles, with Gray and Maloney carrying ERA’s under 3.00. After Burton’s shaky first outing, he's only given up one run in six innings. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Will the Vikings Improve on 3-13 in 2012?

In today's NFL free agency era, teams can make dramatic turnarounds in a very short period of time. Unfortunately, our 3-13 Vikings flunked free agency. While they're certain to get an instant contributor with the third pick in the draft, it's hard to argue with online casinos that have pinned the Vikings (100/1) with the second longest Super Bowl odds (Cleveland's at 150/1).

A quick look at the Vikings' last-place schedule shows some very winnable games, especially early. Without going into depth, here's my first impression of the wins, losses and wild cards.

Week 1: vs. Jacksonville
Week 2: at Indianapolis

Week 3: vs. San Francisco
Week 4: at Detroit

Week 5: vs. Tennessee
Week 6: at Washington
Week 7: vs. Arizona
Week 8: vs. Tampa Bay
Week 9: at Seattle

Week 10: vs. Detroit
Week 12: at Chicago
Week 13: at Green Bay

Week 14: vs. Chicago
Week 15: at St. Louis

Week 16: at Houston
Week 17: vs. Green Bay

Clearly, there will be some tightly contested matchups, and the five-game stretch from Weeks 5-9 will go a long ways in defining the season. At first glance, I can see the Vikings finishing anywhere between 2-14 and 9-7, which means—BREAKING NEWS—the Vikings have no chance of making the playoffs.

If I were playing blackjack, I'd split my eights and put the Vikings on a 6-10 record. Amongst the wild card games, I'd give the team home victories over Tennessee (Week 5), Arizona (Week 6), Tampa Bay (Week 8) and Chicago (Week 14). I don't think any of these opponents have the aerial firepower to take advantage of Minnesota's defunct secondary, the protection to slow a fierce pass rush or the maturity to overcome hostile road environments. I have a low opinion of Josh Freeman, and while Chicago is tricky, I think there's a good chance they'll have imploded by Week 14.

Conversely, I see the Vikings losing the three road wild card games at Washington, Seattle and St. Louis. Each of these teams should be much-improved, with the Redskins and Seahawks sporting new signal callers, and Jeff Fisher, Cortland Finnegan and (potentially) Justin Blackmon bringing credibility to the Rams.

The talent gap between the Vikings and each of these wild card teams is very slim, and to be honest, I feel like 6-10 may be too generous. So go ahead, call me a homer, there's a first time for everything!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Vikings Mock Draft: Inside the War Room

1.06 - Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
1.29 - Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
2.03 - Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
3.03 - Markelle Martin, FS, Oklahoma State
4.01 - Antonio Allen, SS, South Carolina
4.03 - Tommy Streeter, WR, Miami
4.33* - Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
4.39* - Tank Carder, ILB, TCU
6.05 - Evan Rodriguez, TE/FB, Temple
7.39 - Greg Zuerlein, K, Missouri Western State

For the second consecutive season, I’m proud to be a part of the Vikings’ war room in the Twitter-based MockOne series. Each of the 32 teams are represented by a contingent of NFL tweeters that range from paid NFL Draft analysts, to amateur draftniks, to lowly bloggers like myself. I’m joined in the purple trenches by Josh Deceuster of “Mocking the Draft,” and Brett Anderson and Adam Warwas of “Vikings Territory.”

The following are my notes.

  • After Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were selected, we immediately made the No. 3 pick available. We were fully prepared to select USC OT Matt Kalil, but wanted to see what kind of package the pick might fetch, as the team is in desperate need of an across-the-board youth infusion.
  • Miami was the only team we outwardly approached, thinking they’d be interested in Ryan Tannehill, but they weren’t. However, we were a bit surprised to get serious interest from the Rams (1.06). We assumed that Kalil was their guy, so making a trade meant he wouldn’t be available for us at No. 6. 
  • The Rams’ best offer for pick 1.03 was a package of 1.06, 2.07 and 4.01. Ultimately, we felt that by moving back just three spots, we’d still have the opportunity to select one of the top three non-quarterbacks on our board (Kalil, LSU CB Morris Claiborne or OK State WR Justin Blackmon) while adding valuable picks to begin rebuilding our porous roster. The picks would also give us flexibility to move back up if the right player slid in the first round. 
  • We accepted the offer, knowing there were three acceptable outcomes that we ranked in this order: (1) Select Claiborne at No. 6; (2) Trade back again, amass more picks and target Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd or Iowa OT Riley Reiff; (3) “Settle” for Justin Blackmon.
  • As expected, Kalil went third to the Rams, Alabama RB Trent Richardson went fourth to the Browns and the Bucs snatched up Claiborne one spot before us. 
  • We tried feverishly to move back, targeting teams picking 8-13, but garnered no interest.

With the sixth pick (1.06) in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Justin Blackmon, wide receiver, Oklahoma State.

  • This pick was not unanimous, as there was a push for both Floyd and Reiff. Ultimately, we concluded that the Blackmon (6’ 1/2”, 211 lbs.) was the draft’s premier perimeter playmaker, and could provide Christian Ponder more firepower in an attempt to keep pace in the high-octane NFC North. While he wasn’t a Combine workout warrior like fellow receivers Michael Floyd or Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill, Blackmon’s on-field domination couldn’t be denied. He’s no Troy Williamson in the 40, but he’s an incredibly strong athlete who boasts jaw-dropping body control. He runs good routes, and we felt that his elite YAC ability would be the perfect outside compliment to Percy Harvin, Kyle Rudolph/John Carlson and a strong run game in our West Coast Offense. He’s an instant starter opposite Harvin, relegating Michael Jenkins to spot duty.
  • We were happy with the Blackmon selection, but felt a bit uneasy after passing on Kalil, knowing that Reiff, Stanford’s Jonathan Martin and Ohio State’s Mike Adams would all potentially be off the board before our next pick.
  • When we reached 2.20 and Jonathan Martin, our consensus No. 3 OT, was still on the board, we began discussing cashing in some of our quantity for quality.
  • With Martin still on the board at 26, we took action, offering Houston picks 2.07, 4.01 and 6.05. They rejected. The Patriots then rejected the identical offer for pick No. 27. 
  • With the Ravens on the clock at 29, and Martin still available, we finally struck a deal, sending picks 2.07, 5.03 and 7.03 to Baltimore.

With the 29th pick (1.29) in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Jonathan Martin, offensive tackle, Stanford.

  • After dealing with the Rams and Ravens, the Vikings essentially swapped Matt Kalil (1.03), 5.03 and 7.03 for Justin Blackmon (1.06), Jonathan Martin (1.29) and 4.01. 
  • We were ecstatic to pull this off, and while Martin (6’6”, 305 lbs.) is no Matt Kalil, he does project as a good left tackle at the next level. It’s been well documented that recent Super Bowl champions have been winning with less-than-dominant left tackles. Martin’s not a brute like bookend Phil Loadholt, but Andrew Luck’s former blindside protector is quick, athletic and very smart. Charlie Johnson slides inside to left guard, and we’ve now added two crucial pieces at two positions of dire need that will help Christian Ponder succeed in his second season.
  • With two massive boxes checked, our conversation quickly shifted to the secondary and pick 2.03. Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith was the popular name, but none of us were convinced that he was anywhere near BPA at this point, so we again discussed sliding back. Despite adding Blackmon, we toyed with the idea of South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. In the end, we kept coming back to one name: North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

With the 35th pick (2.03) in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Janoris Jenkins, cornerback, North Alabama.

  • As a pure cover corner, Jenkins has as much ability as anybody this side of Morris Claiborne. He’s a touch small (5’10”, 183 lbs.), but he’d be a potential top-10 pick if not for his off-field issues. We felt that we’d nailed two major needs prior to this pick, so with our third pick—a second rounder, no less—the reward greatly outweighed the risk with Jenkins. While cornerback isn’t as desperate a need as safety after the additions of Chris Cook (aquitted) and stopgaps Zach Bowman and Chris Carr, this pick has the potential to pay long-term dividends in the league’s best passing division. Names like Randy Moss, Chris Carter and Percy Harvin kept coming up; supremely talented players who were worth the risk. Here’s hoping that the God-fearing Leslie Frazier can mold a man (and perennial Pro Bowler) out of Jenkins. 

UPDATE: 4/17, 9:38 AM
  • After furiously maneuvering our way through the first 35 picks, we felt that we'd secured three top-20 talents at positions of need, and finally had a chance to catch our breaths and regroup. At this point it became clear that we needed to make safety a priority at 3.03 (Mistral Raymond/Jamarca Sanford would arguably be the worst safety tandem of the modern era).
  • We had a long list of BPA that we could potentially consider if they slid to us, which included North Carolina OLB Zach Brown (2.22 to Detroit) and Clemson DT Brandon Thompson (2.28 to Green Bay).
  • Mississippi OT Bobby Massie, a right tackle, was also a very popular name in our war room. However, we expect mauler Phil Loadholt to take the next step in his contract year, and we're still optimistic about 2011 sixth-rounder DeMarcus Love.
  • Boise State safety George Iloka was atop my wish list, and I was a bit heartbroken when he was selected by the Patriots at 2.31.
  • When we reached the on-deck circle, our war room was split between Oklahoma State safety Markelle Martin (my choice) and Montana cornerback/safety Trumaine Johnson. Knowing that there were two players we'd be happy with, we entertained the notion of sliding back, but found no takers.

With the 66th pick (3.03) in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Markelle Martin, safety, Oklahoma State.

  • Considering that we'd already added Janoris Jenkins to a secondary that included Chris Cook, questions about Trumaine Johnson's character and work ethic didn't do him any favors in our war room.
  • The moment we called Martin's name, he became the best safety on our roster. At 6'1", 207 lbs., he'll be able to play either safety spot in our Tampa 2, and has the ability to be a major contributor on special teams as well. He's a big-time athlete with an NFL body who hits like a truck. He's also a low-risk, pro-ready prospect. He has some technique/fundamental flaws, but like OSU teammate Justin Blackmon, he's a smart, hard-working kid who's passionate about the game. For this reason, we think his warts can be corrected relatively easily with NFL coaching.

UPDATE: 4/17,11:50 PM
  • With one of the extra picks (4.01) we added from St. Louis via the Kalil trade, we held both 4.01 and 4.03. We'd addressed major needs prior to these picks, so we were in favor of drafting BPA regardless of position.
  • We unanimously had Jamell Fleming (CB, Oklahoma) queued up as our pick at 4.01, and were shocked that he was sill available late in the third. Sadly, he was plucked by the 49ers at 3.30, sending us into a bit of a tizzy. 
  • My three teammates had South Carolina safety Antonio Allen as their next best player. I was not thrilled, and offered up Michigan St. quarterback Kirk Cousins as my choice. I think he'd be an outstanding developmental West Coast Offense quarterback and long-term Ponder insurance. Or, I could have envisioned him as the next Matt Schaub/Kevin Kolb/Matt Flynn—a guy we'd turn into a second rounder in a couple of years. Drafting him would require the Vikings to carry four quarterbacks, however, and it simply didn't add up. 
  • Without tipping our hand, I also fought hard for another player who I've been promised will be a Viking if he lasts to 4.33. There was more dissent than ever before this pick. Thanks, San Francisco.

    With the 96th (4.01) pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Antonio Allen, safety, South Carolina.

      • I was the final holdout on Allen (6'2", 202 lbs.), and it took some serious convincing. My primary concern was his ability to cover deep. What I wasn't worried about was his ability to lay the wood. He was a hybrid S/LB at South Carolina, and was excellent in run support and coverage of opposing tight ends.
      • A tailor-made special teamer to boot, we've now addressed the secondary with three consecutive picks. While most boards would probably rate both Markelle Martin and Antonio Allen as moderate stretches where they were selected, I look at it as a matter of low supply and high demand. Safety is a league-wide problem—it's not exclusive to the Vikings. This is a thin safety class, which drove up the value of both Martin and Allen.
      • In this scenario, there'd be a very good chance that Minnesota would be starting a rookie safety tandem, and while there would surely be growing pains in coverage, there'd be no free passes over the middle for opposing offenses.

      UPDATE: 4/18,8:42 AM
      • We fully expected to come out of this draft with at least two wide receivers, and after selecting three consecutive defensive backs, we shifted our focus back to Christian Ponder.

      With the 98th pick (4.03) in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Tommy Streeter, wide receiver, Miami.

      • Streeter was not our BPA. In fact, he wasn't even our highest rated wide receiver. However, his mouth watering blend of size (6'5", 219 lbs.) and speed (unofficial 4.34 40) was just too enticing for us to risk waiting until 4.33. Streeter is a very raw, inexperienced and inconsistent prospect, so he's a long ways away from reaching his ceiling as a bonafide No. 1 receiver. In the meantime, we'll be more than happy to ease the developmental project into the mix by utilizing his speed on "nines" and his size in the red zone. 
      • Two years from now, Ponder's arsenal of Percy Harvin, Kyle Rudolph, Justin Blackmon and Tommy Streeter will be a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. 

      UPDATE: 4/19,10:24 AM
      • Approaching our two compensatory picks we'd acquired in compensation for the departures of Sidney Rice and Ray Edwards, we felt that we'd done very well in addressing needs and would attempt to go BPA regardless of position for the remainder of the draft.
      • I was desperately hoping that my guy, Nevada ILB James Michael-Johnson, would last to 4.33, but the Redskins snagged him at 4.07.
      • We'd already taken part in the huge run of wide receivers with Streeter (between picks 3.27 and 4.30, 11 receivers came off the board). However, true to our board, we went back to the well for Ponder one more time.

      With the 128th pick (4.33) in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Juron Criner, wide receiver, Arizona.

      • Criner was far and away the best player on our board. In fact, we had him rated ahead of each of the previous 13 receivers selected (we'd elevated Streeter due to his unlimited ceiling). At 6'4", 215 lbs., with a 38" vertical, Criner is a huge outside target with second-round talent. He doesn't have top-end speed—he's more in the mold of Sidney rice in terms of size, leaping ability, hands and body control. His stock was hurt by an appendectomy that dented his numbers, and a rumored (undisclosed) mental condition, so he's a bit of a wild card. While he's more pro-ready than Streeter, he'll still need to polish his game and improve his consistency.
      • We love the talented competition we've added to a depleted receiver group in Blackmon, Streeter and Criner.

      With the 134th pick (4.39) in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Tank Carder, linebacker, TCU.

      • The rest of the war room was higher on this guy than I was—I preferred Emmanuel Acho—but I'm happy to have added much-needed depth and competition at MLB. At 6'3", 237 lbs., Carder's a different breed from the guys we've targeted to this point. He's not a tremendous athlete with a ton of untapped potential, but instead an overachiever that's oozing with instincts, passion, effort and leadership. We think he can grow into the mold of Heath Farwell—a solid backup and standout special teamer.

      UPDATE: 4/23,12:10 PM
      • There were four players we were keying in on with this pick: linebackers Emmanuel Acho (Texas) and Travis Lewis (Oklahoma), running back Chris Rainey (Florida) and defensive tackle Nicolas Jean-Baptiste (Baylor). None of them made it to us, so we again went with the best player on our board. 

      With the 175th (6.05) pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Evan Rodriguez, tight end/fullback, Temple.

      • Laugh it up. We'd already added tight end John Carlson and fullbacks Jerome Felton and Lex Hilliard to the mix via free agency, but Rodriguez brings something completely different to the table. At 6'2", 250 lbs., Rodriguez possesses the athleticism and versatility to move around the formation (both inline and in the backfield) and create mismatches as an "h-back." He needs to mature, but with a little coaching creativity, there's no doubt that he has the talent to carve out a role in this offense. He's another multi-faceted weapon for Christian Ponder and Bill Musgrave. 

      With the 223rd (7.16) pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Greg Zuerlein, kicker, Western Missouri State.

      • We concluded our draft by selecting the overall top kicker on our board. Zuerlein has a cannon for a leg (last year he set an NCAA record by going 9-of-9 from 50+ yards, including a pair from 58). The aging Ryan Longwell is on the decline, so Zuerlein's 60-yard range could come in handy sooner rather than later.

      Tuesday, April 10, 2012

      Should the Vikings Trade Everson Griffen?

      I’m not panicking. Panicking is for teams with high expectations.

      However, if I thought the 2012 Vikings could flirt with .500, I’d probably be losing sleep over Michael Jenkins starting opposite Percy Harvin. I’d be chewing my nails as I watched Rick Spielman patch together the cornerback unit with replacement-level talent. And I’d be popping Xanex like Altoids at the thought of two special teamers (Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond) manning the deep halves of the Tampa 2 in the NFL’s best passing division.

      Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford combined for 9,681 yards and 86 touchdowns last season? Pass the Smirnoff.

      The cold, hard reality is that 12 months from now, Vikings fans will likely be in a similar situation: breaking down top-five draft picks. Still, rebuilding this broken roster has to start somewhere, and the team is rich at exactly one position.

      Defensive end.

      Click here to read the rest of the story at Bleacher Report.

      Saturday, April 7, 2012

      Minnesota Vikings' Options at No. 35

      We’ve officially entered the dog days of the NFL Draft process. Draftniks have overthought every possible scenario to the point of delirium, and with the Vikings essentially holding the No. 1 pick, the spotlight of insanity is shining squarely on Rick Spielman. Imaginations are running wild, and the irrational notion that a team may actually be willing to ante up for Ryan Tannehill at No. 3 is the flavor of the week. 

      Click here to read the rest of the article at Bleacher Report. 

      Thursday, April 5, 2012

      Gopher Gab: Frozen Four

      By Jason Rossow

      The Gophers are back in the Frozen Four for the first time since 2005. The regular season WCHA champs dominated the West Regional crushing Boston 7-3 and North Dakota 5-2.  Now, they face the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation: Boston College.

      Boston College may be the most talented team in the nation, and has the hottest goalie as a backstop. BC shut out Air Force 2-0 and Duluth 4-0 on their way to the semi’s. Coached by legend Jerry York, their team is clicking on all cylinders. They’ve won 17 in a row dating back to January 21st, and goalie Parker Milner has not allowed more than two goals in a game during that stretch. They have a very balanced attack with six players scoring 34 or more points this year. The overall No. 1 seed in the tourney, they are the favorite to win it all.

      Don’t count out Minnesota just yet, though. as they are the second best team in the tournament still playing. Their best player is Nick Bjugstad, who is likely to end his career with the Gophers and sign in the NHL after this weekend. His 25 goals are the most since Ryan Potulnu in 2006, and he leads a very solid Minnesota team. Erik Haula leads the Gophers with 48 points, which is the most by any Gophers since Ryan Potulny in 2006. Haula has 16 points in the past nine games, and is the hottest player on the team going into the National Semifinals. Kyle Rau has been as good as any freshman in the nation. At 5’8", 170lbs, he doesn’t look intimidating, but he's one of the hardest hitting Gophers and spends a ton of time in front of the net. He has had a wonderful first year, putting up 18 goals and 25 assists.  Here’s hoping Kyle lights the lamp, and we get to sing the “RAUser” (see what I did there?).

      Minnesota hasn’t left the Twin Cities to play a hockey game since they traveled to Omaha in late February. I’m not sure if that has any effect on this team and how Tampa Bay hosting the Frozen Four will play out. Two of the most storied hockey programs in the country will face off when hockey giants Minnesota and BC collide. The first semifinal features two first-time Frozen Four entries in Ferris St. and Union. No matter which teams advance to the final, it will be a new school vs. old school championship.

      Don Lucia is in his fourth Frozen Four at Minnesota, and was a finalist for the Spencer Penrose Coach of the Year Award. Lucia’s first two trips to the Frozen Four at Minnesota both ended with the Gophers winning it all. The Gophers are now in their 20th Frozen Four all-time, and are aiming for their sixth ever national Title. Getting past Boston College isn’t going to be easy, but the Gophers have a team that could pull the upset. The winner of the BC/Minnesota game will be a heavy favorite Saturday night to win it all.

      For the Gophers to win, they’ll need solid goaltending from Kent Patterson. I think top to bottom the Gophers and BC are very close, and the game will come down to luck and goaltending. If I had to pick, I think Milner is the better goalie, as he hasn’t lost since December 2nd. Minnesota is an underdog, but Michigan was a much bigger underdog last year and knocked out UND in the semifinals. This isn’t the Stanley Cup Playoffs where you need to win four to advance. In a one-and-done format, anything is possible. 

      GO GOPHERS!  Bring back No. 6!

      Tuesday, April 3, 2012


      By Joey Cavalier

      Kevin Love is having a sensational season. Any honest person who watches the NBA should acknowledge that Love is one of the NBA’s best players. He is currently doing things that few players are capable of doing.

      Over the last couple of months, a debate has sparked about whether Love is worthy of MVP consideration. Analysts, writers and fans of the game have taken sides, gathered up their ammunition and battled with the opposition. 

      While I certainly have my personal opinion on the matter, I would like to take a step back, and just appreciate Kevin Love for what he is accomplishing, and for the type of player he is becoming.

      For starters, let us take a look at what Love is doing statistically:
      • 26.5 points per game (4th the NBA)
      • 13.6 rebounds per game (2nd)
      • 101 three-pointers made (tied for 5th)
      • 360 free throws made (1stt)
      • 1st in the NBA in points/assists/rebounds per game with 42.0
      • 45 double-doubles (1st)
      • 28.9 efficiency rating per game (2nd)
      • Leads the league with 10 games of 30 points and 15 rebounds (the rest of the NBA has just eight combined)
      • Currently shooting 45% from the field, 39% from three territory and 82% from the free throw line
      • Love is the only player in league history to lead the league in scoring, rebounding, and three-pointers made in a calendar month (he did it this past March with 30.7 PPG, 13.9 RPG, 48 3PM)
      • Lastly, here is a little quote from Bill Simmons of to finish the Love stat session, “Fact: Neither Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Charles Barkley, Chris Webber, Larry Bird nor Karl Malone ever averaged 27 points and 13 rebounds per game in the same season”

      Love currently sits at 26.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game… Enough said.

      The numbers only tell us what Love has already proven: that he is one of the most dominant and versatile players in the entire league. His low-post game has become an absolute nightmare for defenders, his mid-range game is flat out deadly (especially with his recently acquired step back jumper and Tim Duncan-esque bank shot), and his perimeter game is among the best in the league. Offensively, Love can dominate from anywhere on the court, and few big men execute the pick and roll as well as he does. He also makes a habit of hitting clutch shots, he viciously attacks the rim, and he gets to the charity stripe often. Love’s offensive game is as polished as they come. Whether people are ready to accept it is another matter.

      Love’s defense has also been improving (though many still believe that he is an awful defender). Love is not—and may never be—an elite shot blocker, but that is not all there is to defense. He displays solid effort on the defensive end (which is the majority of the battle), he’s getting his arms up to distort/contest shots and he clogs the lane when his number is called. Plus, Love is second in the league in defensive rebounds per game (which is still a defensive stat). Love does not get tossed around by opposing big men like he used to. He still needs to improve defensively, but he is only 23 years old. With his top-notch work ethic, you can definitely count on Love continuing to grow in this area of his game.

      At this point the Love-detractors will likely ask, “Well, if Love is so good, why do the Timberwolves suck?” There are many things that play into that question. First, I would like to point out that the Wolves had the worst record in the NBA just one season ago, and are now one of the most improved teams in the league (largely because of what Love is doing on the court). Also, keep in mind that the Oklahoma City Thunder sucked for some time even though Kevin Durant was putting up nasty numbers. Kevin Durant is pretty good, right? They sucked for two years even with Durant playing well. But now that other pieces were added to the mix (i.e. James Harden and Russell Westbrook), and they were given time to grow together, they are now one of the league’s most frightful teams. And lastly, what more can you ask of Love and the Wolves at this point? Their second best player, Ricky Rubio, is out for the year with an ACL injury. Their third best player, Nikola Pekovic, has been banged up down the stretch. Michael Beasley and J.J. Barea (who are important players off the bench) have missed serious time with injuries, and now Luke Ridnour is out with a nasty ankle sprain.

      Love is playing at a different level, but he needs good-to-great players around him just like every other superstar across the league does. The Wolves simply do not have that going for them at this point. But come next year, as Derrick Williams improves, as Rubio gets healthy, and as Pek’s game continues to grow… watch out.

      So whether or not you think Love is worthy of being the MVP, you just need to respect what he is doing on the court, and look forward to the player that he is becoming. And at 23 years of age, one can only imagine just how good Love can and will be.