Ever since he arrived in Cleveland, Kevin Love has been the team’s scapegoat year after year but this season he’s proven to be the most important Cavalier not named LeBron James. According to Synergy Sports, his points per possession is 1.111 and ranks 15th in the NBA (minimum 500 possessions) which is second on the Cavs to Kyle Korver who has had 307 fewer possessions than Love. The Cavs remade their entire roster at the trade deadline and until recently did not see how the team would work with Love while he was out with a broken hand. It seems all these new Cavs roster needs is Love.
The Cavs offensive rating (measures a team’s points scored per 100 possessions) has flocculated quite a bit this season with Love in and out of games. His offensive rating this season has been 110.7 but with the turnover on the roster, he has only had a chance to play four full games with the new roster (he played only seven minutes against Miami before having to sit out the rest of the game). Even though it is a small sample size but his offensive rating in those games shot up to 127.7 and as a team, the Cavs had a rating 123.9. The Cavs post-trade deadline and before Love came back they were at 112.2.
Love brings a lot to the table on the offensive end, starting with his ability to stretch the floor. He’s the best shooting big man the Cavs have, connecting at a 40.4% clip from downtown. Teams have to watch for him trailing in for threes after they stop any initial transition action, this secondary action tends to catch defenses off guard.
Teams will try to take advantage of Love’s defensive weaknesses by going small, but he has a post game that will allow him to bully small defenders. He took Rondae Hollis-Jefferson into the paint and bullied him into the middle finishing over him and he hit a fadeaway over Jared Dudley in their game against the Phoenix Suns.
In pick-and-roll situations, Love does a great job of popping out to three putting pressure on defenses to have to recover quickly. If they spend too much time focused on the ball-handler Love can make them pay from deep and if they close out too hard like Jonas Valanciunas did, he can get by them and knock down the mid-range jumper.
Love as a spot up shooter paired that with James’ gravity off the dribble is a deadly combination that defenses haven’t been able to figure it out. Watch as Jakob Poeltl gets pulled in from the weakside on LeBron’s drive that opened up a passing lane to Love for a three. Then of course in the final seconds as James came off the pick-and-roll he found Love as Serge Ibaka came to help who shoved the dagger in the chest of the Raptors.
There is an aspect of Love’s game that the Cavs have yet to take advantage of, it’s his passing. In his last season in Minnesota, he averaged 4.4 assists and often facilitated the offense for the Wolves. Love does a great job of placing passes in just the right spot, whether it is to hit guys on backdoor cuts, on the move after getting a defender up in the air, and hitting the weakside corner after a double-team comes to him in the post. The last pass is particularly interesting, much like a quarterback who places a pass where only the receiver can get it, he throws the ball just perfectly to James outside hand in the post and just out of the reach of the defender.
The key to unlocking the Cavs offense appears to be Love, he is able to spread the floor with his shooting, has the ability to post up smaller defenders, and can hit open teammates when defenses scramble to cover him. There is no question LeBron James is the most important Cavalier but to really press defenses all the Cavs need is Love.
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