Kevin Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers has not worked so far.
This is a guy who have averaged 26 points and 12 rebounds at one point, doing so with being able to shoot threes, good post presence and just had an overall impact on offense with his passing. Fast forward two years, and he has been relegated to a pick and pop, corner shooter who’s very little to not involved in the offense. And while the Cleveland is leading their conference, their games against the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors may have suggested that they are far from being the top candidate to win the title. Both games, Love has been close to non existent. And that is just a couple of what is plenty of games in his two year stint in Cleveland that he hasn’t resembled the All-Star Forward that earned him a max contract last summer.
What is happening?
Part of it could be is that indeed the very diminished role on the offensive end. Kevin Love has thrived with the ball in his hands, on either on the top of the key, the left block, or on the post, as he did in his days in Minnesota. It’s acceptable to assume that coming in Cleveland, with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on the team, both also needs their share of touches, that someone has to take the burden of taking the less ball dominating duties, and that has been Love. But it can’t be an excuse for Cleveland to not put him in position where he has been successful. Love thirved by playing either on the block or on the high post, also utilizing his post skills and passing. In Cleveland, he’s merely a guy who sets picks and stretch the floor for Kyrie or LeBron to do work. It’s not a bad idea, seeming as he’s a 36% shooter from beyond the arc, but it’s completely nullifying everything else the Kevin Love does that’s good. His Free Throw attempts are down to 4 from 8 per game in his last season at Minnesota, and so as his assists numbers, from 4 a game in his last Timberwolves year, to 2 a game this year with the Cavs. Again, it could be attributed to the lack of touches, but it could also mean under-utilization. Kevin Love gets FT’s while banging his way in the post, and his passing skills on the top of the key a superb, those have been little to no use for Cleveland as he has not been put in a position to take advantage of those skills.
Another, somewhat underrated reason is what sports writer Bill Simmons has suggested in his podcast. In the BS Podcast, he has said that part of the struggles is that LeBron James and Kevin Love are effective offensive players when they are on a certain side of the court, the left side. He mentioned an article by Kirk Goldsberry in 2014, the year the Cleveland big three has teamed up, he had the shot charts of both LeBron and Love, with the heat maps being on left block. That’s essentially making one or the other give up that side, and it’s certainly not going to be LeBron because he will have the ball most of the times. With James working mostly on the left side, it pushes Kevin Love to the other side of the court, his less effective side of the court, which is not that big of setback, but under-utilizing him again.
What’s making it even more weird, is that for some reason Kevin Love is playing much worse with Kyrie Irving.
Without Kyrie, Love is putting up 17 points, 10 rebounds, 42% FG, 36% 3PT per game. With Irving, it drops drastically to 13 points, 11 rebounds, 38% FG%, 35% 3PT. As well has he played with LeBron, it’s the Big Three playing together is where Love has struggled. Part of it, again, could be not being able to utilize his strengths offensively, putting him in spots he’s not comfortable with, and just an overall diminished role on the offense.
The biggest thing that could make or break the Cavs, is his production defensively, or lack of it. Setting aside the fact that shooters are shooting 4.5% better when defended by Love, but his defensive role. And while it’s looking like they are running away with the East title, the real threat is in the West, with the Spurs and Warriors. It has been seen in the Finals that the Cavs can be vulnerable against the Warriors’ Small Ball Lineup of Death, and Kevin Love isn’t suited to defend said lineup. He’s too slow to recover on his feet, and would be more so against a very agile Draymond Green playing Center. And the Spurs not only have the personnel to run their own Small Ball lineup, they will be willing to do so.
And that might be the setback for Cleveland. Love’s lack of offensive efficiency and not being able to be a piece that could defend the biggest threat they have in winning the Championship.
Kevin Love could be a bad fit for this team.
So how does the Cavs respond? The offensive woes can definitely be fixed, but not having him on the court once the small ball lineup emerges negates whatever offense he could bring.
More so, how does Kevin Love respond? There are comparison to James’ Heat big three and Chris Bosh and the current big three with Love. Bosh, also had his touches and his role on the team diminished, but the big difference is he was willing to work on fitting in, improving his 3PT shooting, and has worked into turning into one good defensive player. Granted that they didn’t have to deal with a lot of small ball lineups then, but Bosh earned his keep. Maybe Kevin Love should do the same?
The Cavs have a $20 million per year player that hasn’t been efficient on offense, and can’t be relied upon on defense. Add to it that the Cavs had some success going as far as the Finals without him, it really begs the question, what do they do with Kevin Love?