Will Kevin Love Return to Superstar Form?

The story of Kevin Love is one of heartbreak. Kevin Love was a top-10 player in Minnesota who averaged 26.1 points and 16.4 rebounds per game in 2013 with a PER of 26.9. His numbers in that season with the Timberwolves were incredible, putting him fourth in the league in points per game and third in rebounds per game. A stellar talent, he was toiling away his years in Minnesota, winning 32 games only once in the seven seasons he was there.

Even though Love did struggle to fit in with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving last year, the wins came easily (32 in the first half), and the Cavaliers comfortably entered the playoffs. Kevin Love was enjoying a playoff run that looked promising but he dislocated his left shoulder in Game 4 of the first round on a questionable play by Boston’s Kelly Olynyk.

The Cavaliers made the NBA Finals but lost to the Golden State Warriors and Kevin Love had to, heartbreakingly, watch his team play without him, an opportunity Love had been chasing his whole career.

Love knows he has to step up his game on his return from injury and rehab. He stayed true to his repeated statements of not leaving Cleveland and committed to the Cavaliers by signing a 5-year $110 million contract this offseason.

Last year, Love struggled to find his role with the Cavs as a secondary player, averaging only 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, which were numbers he surpassed every season besides his first two. In an offense with legitimate scorers in LeBron and Kyrie, Kevin Love must adapt and take advantage of his limited shots.

Cleveland plans to feature Love more in the offense and it seems LeBron was one of the main reasons for this. LeBron and Kevin Love have had their disagreements last season but it appears that it is finally behind them. The trust is starting to form. LeBron recently stated:

“He’s got a year under his belt; he knows what he expects out of himself and what his teammates expect out of him. I expect big things from him this year with a year up under his belt.”

Spending most of his summer rehabbing his left shoulder and strengthening the rest of his body, Love has dedicated himself to bringing the Cavaliers back to the NBA Finals. He dropped 15 pounds this offseason, training in high altitudes for a month to improve his agility and conditioning. The altitude training was something Love believed to be very beneficial.

“Your red blood cell count [increases]. And going up there, it’s like putting a hand or a pillow over your face and trying to breathe. So when I came back down to sea level, it was a big increase and I felt really great.”

The conditioning Love went through is a huge asset, but the weight loss could be good and bad. Love is not a great defender and the weight loss could hurt his ability to defend in the post consistently. The Cavs can only hope to lean on Love’s offensive abilities to outweigh his subpar defense.

Kevin Love made his first appearance in a NBA game since his injury yesterday against the Toronto Raptors. He nailed his first two shots on step-back jumpers and ended the night with 6 points and 4 rebounds in 13 minutes of play. The power forward showed his defensive rebounding prowess and his patented outlet passing on a perfect strike to Matthew Dellavedova which ended up as an alley-oop dunk to Timothy Mozgov. Love also had 2 assists; one of them being a nifty behind-the-back dish for a three after making a nice defensive play. It was a promising showing for Love’s first game back with the only bad statistic being his 2-7 shooting but that should not be something to worry about once Love gets his rhythm and game experience back. Overall, Love looked like he is in basketball shape and will be ready for the season.

The Cavs are going to need Love more than ever at the start of the regular season with Iman Shumpert and Kyrie Irving likely missing a few games due to injury. This period can be a time where Love can build on his chemistry playing with LeBron. Entering his second season with the Cavaliers, Love seems to be settling into the system and becoming comfortable so he does not have to overthink certain situations out on the floor. Last season Love stated he would second-guess himself on his offensive choices, but now his comfort level has grown.

Kevin Love is ready to be more than just a third wheel and wants to reestablish himself as one of the top power forwards in the league. The Cavs gave up a lot to acquire Love last season – a first round pick, Andrew Wiggins, and Anthony Bennett – but they are still hopeful that he will be a huge contribution to winning championships. With this fresh new contract, Kevin Love is ready to prove that he is worth the investment.

photo via llananba