While the Cleveland Cavaliers have righted the ship, stretching their league-best win streak to 11 games with a 97-84 victory against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, Kevin Love's offensive production remains subpar by his own standards — all while the Cavs' offensive rating climbed into the NBA's top five.
Cleveland has gone from below .500 to 30-20 over the past three weeks, inching within a half-game of the Chicago Bulls for the Central Division lead and a home playoff series, but if this edition of the Cavaliers hopes to win an NBA championship in their first season together, they will need Love playing at an All-Star level come April, even if he's not participating in the exhibition game later this month.
Throwing out 2012-13, when he played just 18 games due to injury, Love's field goal and 3-point percentages this winter (42.4 and 33.0 percent, respectively) are the worse they've been since his second season, and over the 11-game win streak those numbers have declined further (37.2 and 29.4 percent).
Part of Love's struggles can be attributed to fewer chances alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, but LeBron offered a different reason to the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Chris Haynes following Love's 1-for-7 effort against the Sixers — a stat Cavs coach David Blatt conceded "absolutely shouldn't happen."
"I think Kev had some shots that he passed up on," James said. "Maybe he just felt like he wasn't in a good rhythm, but I know I hit him for a few shots after the first quarter where he had some good looks and he decided to swing, which is OK because it kept the ball moving.
"I think for Kevin, I think his confidence maybe just shooting the ball is a little down. But for me as a player, I got him good looks. I want him to shoot the ball and shoot it with confidence."
Thanks to NBA.com's statistics tool, we know Love averaged 4.7 touches per shot last season, and that number is only slightly down to 5.2 this year. Likewise, his ratio of passes received to passes made is nearly identical to last winter, suggesting the power forward is not passing up many more looks than he did on the Timberwolves. Rather, fewer touches are leading to fewer shots, and they're just not falling.
If self-esteem is indeed the issue — a theory Love himself rejects, telling Haynes his shooting woes are "not for a lack of confidence" — LeBron sharing that insight with the media probably isn't the best way to lift his teammate's spirit. Regardless, Cleveland is winning, and Love is finding other ways to contribute.
Still, if the Cavs want to continue contending with the offensive juggernauts out West, they'll need all the help they can get, so finding ways to get a former All-Star better involved is a good place to start.
Although they play different positions, Love might draw inspiration from Ray Allen, whose field goal attempts also took a dip upon moving from Seattle to Boston in 2007. Allen experienced similar shooting struggles at the same point during his first season on the Celtics, admitting the adjustment to a more limited offensive role was a challenge, but he found his stroke in February, and the rest was history.
And if LeBron's recruiting efforts pay off again, Allen might soon be in Cleveland to offer some advice.
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