Kevin Love is suffering from the same thing Chris Bosh suffered from: being the third wheel.
Kevin Love may have been the biggest threat on the Minnesota Timberwolves but in Cleveland his impact is not even close to that of his fellow star teammates, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James.
Of course, we have to consider that Love shares the court with one of the best offensive players in the NBA and one of the greatest players in NBA history, but it’s been recently established that one team can essentially hold all the stars (I’m looking at you, Golden State) and not have won anything yet.
Love has been playing the supporting cast member. The Cavs need a strong frontcourt and Love hasn’t been dominant enough to provide that.
Love’s offense has dropped drastically since he joined the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014. His last year with the Timberwolves was a 26 point year for Love. With the Cavs, he has averaged 16 points per game. A 10-point deficit probably wasn’t what the Cavs intended on when they signed him, upon the urging of LeBron James. Love’s field goal percentage descended to 41.9% last season, the lowest it’s been since his hand fracture injury.
Love is barely passing the threshold for a star power forward on defense. Love’s blocks per game has stayed at a stagnant 0.5 throughout most of his career, including this past season. That number would be impressive for a guard. But for a player whose role is supposed to be shielding shots in the front court, it’s simply too insignificant for the 31.5 minutes he plays each game. Love averages a substantial 9.9 rebounds per game – impressive, but let’s break that down a bit. Over two-thirds of those rebounds were uncontested, and he only gets 32.4% of contested rebounds.
The Cavs seemed to have no hope coming back from a 2-0 deficit in the NBA Finals. After a 110-77 blowout by the Warriors and the loss of Kevin Love to an injury, Cleveland couldn’t possibly recover, right? Wrong. With James shifting to power forward, they pulled off an easy win with the scoreboard beaming, 120-90.
It was astounding how reducing the size of the starting lineup could possibly help a team that had been struggling because of their small size. Putting home court advantage aside, the disparity between these two games must have something to do with the players themselves. Love didn’t have the strength to penetrate the Warrior’s defense in the paint, and although Cleveland’s post never really fixed that problem, the Cavs still won with drives from the outside. James is exceptional and famously expert at driving so he upstaged Love at the PF position. Speed was the changing factor that won it for the Cavs since they could pick up the pace with Richard Jefferson in for Love.
If Love stays on the Cavs for this coming season (which he presumably will aside from trade rumors), the team will continue to have weaknesses in the front court. Love will have trouble against LaMarcus Aldridge and Draymond Green, two formidable power forwards from teams (Spurs, Warriors) that pose a serious threats to Cleveland’s title.
Kevin Love has been underperforming because he lacks what the Cavs need the most in the paint right now – uncompromising strength. This isn’t as straightforward as improving shooting percentage or ball handling over the summer; he would have to become a completely different player to fit perfectly into the role.
Next season isn’t looking any different from the past two for Kevin Love. And with top competitors working on their own upgrades and improvements, the Cavaliers need to be worried.
photo via llananba