Few NBA stars are as divisive as Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, and that’s saying something as we work our way through “Should We All Hate Kobe Bryant Week.”
The former Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star was finally granted a reprieve from the team that denied him a max contract nearly three years ago and failed to surround him with enough talent to get over the enormous hump that it takes to make the Western Conference playoff bracket. Though the Wolves will rue missing those playoffs for the 11th straight season in 2014-15, the deal was a win-win of sorts, as the team was able to take on two fantastic prospects in Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett along the way.
During his time in Minnesota, Love put up fantastic statistics (save for his injury-plagued turn in 2012-13), as even his per-minute numbers were top shelf in his first few years, when he was weirdly kept from playing big minutes by coaches Kevin McHale and Kurt Rambis. In a self-penned feature entitled for The Players’ Tribune, Love looked back on his time with the struggling franchise:
I grew up a lot – personally and professionally – during my time with the Wolves. I’ll be the first to tell you that I didn’t always handle things perfectly. We are all unfinished products. It’s not easy to handle the disappointment of losing when you’re in your early twenties. There were times when I wasn’t easy to be around in the locker room. It’s hard to be a leader when you don’t have the model — and when you don’t have a blueprint for what winning in the NBA looks like.
But I make no excuses. I posted my best personal numbers last season, and we still didn’t make the playoffs. Some of the backlash was pretty hard to take — I learned that there is apparently such a thing as an “empty stat” (I’ll try to remember the importance of that the next time I am boxing out for a rebound against Tim Duncan).
Yeah, that’s a dig.
That’s a dig at the scads of basketball scribes, fans, or personalities (many of whom we should still respect to no end) that see Love’s big numbers (he managed 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game last season) as pointless because his Wolves only won 40 games in 2013-14.
It’s true that Love was allowed to shoot more because of Minnesota’s paucity of options on the offensive end, but it wasn’t as if he was sub-40 percent, Iverson-esque chucker. Love remained efficient despite constant defensive attention, he found his teammates and he didn’t turn the ball over much in comparison to how much he had to deal with on the offensive end.
Of course, in Cleveland, Love’s numbers will understandably dip – and it’s no guarantee that his shooting percentages will rise, or that his turnovers won’t spike. Love wasn’t exactly practicing bad habits in Minnesota, but this is a massive change in the order as he takes to playing with the game’s best player in LeBron James and a ridiculously talented scorer in Kyrie Irving that is in many ways the opposite of Ricky Rubio, who can’t shoot to save his life.
This is something to remember, especially for those of us who couldn’t understand why Chris Bosh didn’t shoot 72 percent from the field playing alongside LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami. Love is going to have to be featured, he’s going to have to develop a rhythm, and at times James and Irving are going to have to play off of him.
"My entire life I've played the game from inside-out," Love explained to NEOMG. "So the more touches I can get inside to get myself going, the better. I'm not accustomed to starting out a game shooting a three, so it's just something that I see.
"I'm 26-years-old and I've been playing basketball for quite a long time. Just finding ways to mix it up. If anything, keeping it around the basket a little bit more and the offense will allow me to get offensive rebounds. That will be tough for teams with Andy [Varejao] and myself and Tristan [Thompson] in there."
"We just looked at film and I saw it. I felt it," he said. "Where I'm very effective is on the low block. That's where I need to be."
Love wasn’t complaining, but he did point out that rookie Cavaliers coach David Blatt has mostly utilized him as a spot up shooting threat so far in the preseason, as 20 of his 48 field goal attempts have come from outside so far (making 45 percent) in the exhibition campaign. Popping 25-footers right after the opening tip, especially when you’re a 6-10 dude, isn’t exactly ideal. And while Love’s outside touch is to be respected, he is a former Three-Point Shootout champion, the big man is not exactly Ryan Anderson or Channing Frye out there – Kevin is a 36 percent career three-point shooter, and shot just a tick better than that mark last season.
For all the worrying about Irving having to fit his ball-dominant style alongside the best in the game, it truly is Love that is going to make the biggest adjustment. He is going to have to assert himself in the post in ways that Chris Bosh did not as the years moved along. James will happily let Irving play yo-yo with the ball in this offense, but Kevin Love cannot turn into an afterthought.
Kevin Love’s numbers will take a dive in Cleveland, adding fuel to the fire that his critics can’t wait to stoke as 2014-15 moves along, but that’s just fine. What counts the most is that he makes those (somewhat) diminished numbers work, and that he isn’t relegated in the Cavaliers offense.
If Love is utilized properly, this already fearsome Cavaliers offense could produce some historic, historic stuff. This is going to be a fantastic team to watch. Nothing empty about that.
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