Finding a proper two-man game in the NBA is crucial for executing on offense when you need a big bucket. While the future of this team has always been about Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio providing the Wolves with that two-man game, the early returns from the 2013-14 season show that the duo of Kevin Love and Kevin Martin might be the solution for late-game execution.
During the first game of the season against the Orlando Magic, the Martin-Love combination looked a little awkward together. It was like watching two eighth graders trying to figure out how not to step on each other's feet while they dance. Ever since then, the duo has been looking incredibly comfortable with the waltz they have on the court together.
When Martin and Love are on the court together, the Wolves typically handle their opponents quite easily. Through the first seven games of the regular season, the Wolves outscored their opponents by 10.2 points per 100 possessions. They're practically running teams out of the building by pushing the pace and playing both ends of the floor better than the team average.
The Wolves had an offensive rating of 100.0 on the season in their first seven contests (before Monday's night's game with the Clippers). The defensive rating sat at a very respectable 96.6. The offensive output increases to 104.3 with Martin and Love playing together while the defense drops down to 94.1.
There are quite a few factors that have to be remembered when looking at two-man lineup data this early in the season. First, the other three members of the team on the floor will often matter quite a bit. Second, we're dealing with such a small sample size of data that any one game right now, good or bad, could sway how the numbers look.
Looking at the lineup data of the starting lineup in the first seven games, the offensive rating (100.8) was actually lower than just the two-man lineup data with Martin and Love together. The defense was 0.9 points per 100 possessions better with the starting lineup than when you keep Love and Martin with some reserves, but that's not a big drop-off at all.
Perusing data can be fun for some people but you'd probably rather see the chemistry these two players are developing, rather than just read about why it's good. The two Kevins are creating a fantastic chemistry between their games and you can see it in the way Love is anticipating Martin being open.
There are several thoughts I had when putting together this video of some of the assists from Love to Martin.
--I have no idea why defensive big men are worried about Nikola Pekovic being a threat from 16 feet on the weak side of the floor but it's allowing Love a lot of room to sling the ball.
--Martin is such a threat to knock down spot-up jumpers (he's made 6 of his 10 spot-up 3-pointers this year) that you often see the defender squared up to Martin when he's in the corner. This allows Martin to get a quick step on them to create separation for the pass from Love as long as he can avoid contact.
--The Wolves can run so many variations off this set and we'll see that throughout the year. Martin can circle around to get the hand-off, he can screen for Rubio and put Rubio and Love into an immediate pick-and-pop, Martin can cut baseline, he can slip the screen and dive to the basket, and so much more. A disciplined Wolves team in this offense could be deadly.
--Kevin Love is really good at basketball.
The fun thing for the Wolves is this isn't just a one-way street. We're seeing Love and Martin learn how to help each other in a way that gets Love some shots off of this duo too. The end of the Mavericks game was a huge sign of exactly how versatile this combination can be.
Martin was able to become the screener for Love, something we've seen with Rubio do many times. Being able to do that with a good scorer makes it even deadlier if the defense overplays Love. Martin seems to be getting comfortable setting up Love as the two log more minutes together.
Let's take a look:
There is so much for the defense to worry about when trying to stop the Wolves' starters, or any lineup with Love and Martin together, that these quick hitter plays can give the Wolves some easy opportunities at points.
Soon enough, opponents will have a game plan against the two Kevins and try to find ways to make Corey Brewer and Ricky Rubio beat them. The fun thing about these two dynamic scorers playing next to each other, though, is they're still learning how to play alongside each other. We're seeing the development of a good on-the-fly strategy between the two scorers that will only get more creative as they play together.
Still plenty for the Wolves to work on this season as they try to get back into the playoffs but having a go-to scoring duo is coming together quite nicely.