Kevin Love has often appeared to struggle to fit in (and fit out) during his first season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, playing like a marginalized version of the player who racked up such gaudy numbers in his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Love has often looked content to hang out on the perimeter on offense, launching three-pointers at a career-high rate and serving a secondary (or maybe tertiary) role behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. It's been unclear if Love is playing that way for ease or due to the preferences of head coach David Blatt and/or his teammates. Regardless, Love looks like a different player.
However, Love does not view himself as substantially changed even if that's how he's being used. After taking all but one of his 11 attempts from beyond the arc in Friday's road loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Love made it clear that he does not see himself primarily as an outside shooter. From Chris Haynes for the Northeast Ohio Media Group (via PBT):
Love is launching 8.1 threes per contest in his last seven games. His highest rate of threes taken in Minnesota was 6.6 last year, and that was along with the inside touches he received. No matter what the statistics suggest, Love is not in agreement on the big-man long distance tag.
"I heard some people calling me that but I know I'm not a stretch-four," Love told NEOMG. "I'm a post player who can shoot. Right now I'm just doing what I'm called to do. For good, bad or indifferent, I'm playing my role and doing what's asked of me. Tonight, I stayed out on the perimeter." [...]
If the Cavaliers want to shred the Hawks' defense the next go-around, Love will need to be more involved in the interior on a consistent basis. Plays designed for him to get post touches have been dramatically reduced over time. The games he's played well are due to efficient outside shooting nights.
Love's comments essentially confirm that he is taking outside shots because of his prescribed role in the Cleveland offense, not his personal preferences. That makes intuitive sense to anyone who has watched Love in his career, because he can be a bull on the block and earned his reputation as a top power forward with those skills. To put it another way, Love is a post player who can shoot in terms of abilities but currently a stretch four in terms of application.
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The more interesting question is not how to classify Love, but whether not using him to his full capabilities will harm the Cavaliers once they get to the playoffs. To be clear, Love can contribute even if he's only scoring by shooting. That was the case in Saturday's not-really-that-close 89-79 victory over the Phoenix Suns, in which he put up 13 points (3-of-6 FG, 3-of-5 3FG), 10 rebounds (all defensive), and four assists. He also had the highlight of the night with this incredible pass from the corner:
This version of Love is a very good player who pretty clearly helps his team. Yet he's also not a star, and not the guy the Cavaliers likely thought they were getting when they gave up Andrew Wiggins and others for him in last summer's blockbuster trade. The Love we've seen with Cleveland is very good but also less than his typical value, more like Channing Frye than a two-time All-NBA Second Team selection.
Yet it's arguable that the Cavaliers need Love to occupy this lesser role in order for the team to work. Chris Bosh warned Love this October that playing with LeBron as a star can be frustrating even when the team is thriving because it requires a complete reconsideration of how such a great player must be used. Bosh even specifically referred to getting fewer touches in the post. While an ideal Cavaliers offense would involve Love taking advantage of everything he can be, it's possible that implementing such a system would require too much work and cause LeBron and Kyrie to be less successful. Perhaps this is what Love must be given the situation.
The looming issue here is that Love can opt out of his contract this offseason. His decision could depend on comfort rather than how far the Cavs advance in the postseason Bosh found a way to enjoy himself next to LeBron, but he also may have chosen not to join the Houston Rockets as a free agent last July because he wanted to return to playing as a primary scoring option. Similarly, Love could sign elsewhere in several months because he cares about being used in the way he prefers rather than in the way that leads to the most wins. Bosh is not necessarily a useful precedent — the decision may come down to the specifics of Love's personality.
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