Did Howland misuse Kevin Love? (An analysis)

Now that Howland has his highest rated recruit since Kevin Love eligible, it might be a good time to revisit my analysis of Love's role in the offense. Given his skills as a scorer and passer, shouldn't the offense have been built around him? Did he get enough touches? Were certain teammates not passing him the ball enough? Some have felt that these factors played a major role in his leaving early. (The leading proponent of this was of course Stan Love.)

So my question was twofold: What proportion of UCLA's possessions should Love have gotten the ball and what proportion did he really did get the ball before a shot was taken. In a perfect world, Love should have touched the ball on every possession. Realistically, I would say a minimum of 60-70% of the time. So I calculated what I believed to be a very accurate estimate of the actual number.

In order to estimate the percentage of possessions Kevin Love touched the ball before a shot went up, I looked at a sample of games including a non-conference neutral court game in November, a road conference game in January, a home conference game in February and an NCAA playoff game in March. Love played between 29 and 34 minutes in each game. Although this might seem like a small sample, the results were almost identical in every game, leading me to believe that the average for these games was a fairly accurate estimate for the whole season.

I defined a possession as any time UCLA got the ball and set up the offense. Fast breaks and semi-fast breaks where the team had an open shot after none or one pass (sometimes referred to as "opportunity shots") don't count. Offensive possessions on out of bounds plays under the basket also don't count unless they reset the offense. Also, safety valve passes to Love 25 feet or more from the basket didn't count as touches.

In the four games, Love touched the ball in 45%, 48%, 44%, and 47% of the possessions.

Not counting one game in which Collison didn't play, these are the percentages of Love's touches on a pass from:

Collison 42%
Westbrook 31%
Mbah a Moute 15%
Shipp 10%
Others 2%

In the game Collison missed, it was RW-40%, LRMaM- 35%, JS-20%, others 5%.

These numbers look reasonable considering the position and responsibilities of each of these players. Shipp's number might be a little low, but his primary purpose was to score.

So Love got touches on a little less than half of UCLA's possessions. (Number of shots taken is misleading since many were the result of offensive rebounds and not the offense.) Was this enough? Not when you consider these remarkable stats:

In the four halves where Love got touches on over 50% of the possessions, UCLA outscored the opposition by an average of 9.3 points.

In the four halves where Love got touches on under 50% of the possessions, UCLA was outscored by the opposition by an average of 1.5 points.

Is this proof that Howland misused Love? No, but strongly suggests that might have been the case.

It's about Howland's philosophy of fitting players to his system and not fitting his system to the players. When you have a once in a career talent like Love, you have to get the optimal use out of him and perhaps he didn't. That's not to say he didn't get a lot out of him and some of that may have been his teammate's fault. Maybe they didn't work on post passing enough in practice or were just selfish as some suggest. How much of that is the coach's responsibility to fix? But this is applicable for other players in other seasons, too. Why did Howland get a free pass on Holiday's mediocre stats? If everyone who watched him play in high school thought he was great and many NBA teams wanted to draft him in the first round, wouldn't his college career be the one that didn't fit? Did Howland misuse him? Nobody seems to want to believe that. Steve Lavin was widely criticized for saying he didn't have any special plays for Jason Kapono, one of the great shooters in school history. Howland did a good job in his first five years at UCLA, but that doesn't mean he couldn't have done better. So I'm just suggesting that the perception and the reality don't quite match up here.

Now how about the future? In Shabazz Muhammed, he has a player who likes to shoot . . . a lot. In the Hoop Summit game he took 27 of the team's 78 shots and he wasn't exactly playing with weak teammates. In Howland's nine years at UCLA, he has had only three players take as many as 20 shots in a regulation game (twice each and no more than 22). Dijon Thompson had the highest average at a little under 14. So will Howland give him free reign to shoot as much as he wants? With Smith and the Wears having some of the lowest assist totals for frontcourt players in UCLA history and with Adams already taking shots at a record pace, how can this work? Somebody isn't going to be very happy and it may turn out to be not only the players, but the fans as well.

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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