clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cleveland Cavaliers position preview: Kevin Love defines the power forwards

At power forward, everything works off and around Kevin Love.

Jason Miller/Getty Images

At 27, Kevin Love is entering the stretch of years that are generally considered to be the prime of an athlete's career. Depending on how his skills are integrated in the Cavs' offense, there's very good reason to believe that Love - and by extension the other power forwards on the Cavaliers - will be better than last year.

Love is the player everything revolves around at power forward - this is both because Love is a top-15 player and a somewhat limited player on the defensive end of the floor. Offensively, Love is the perfect modern power forward. If the Cavs so choose, they could run a portion of their offense through Love on the elbow or on the block and not miss a real beat. Additionally, he can step out behind the arc and create legitimate space for Kyrie Irving and LeBron James to drive and attack into. Per, Love shot 37.1 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers while taking almost five catch and shoot threes a game. He did so while taking the vast majority of his shots from behind the arc or near the rim and largely abandoning the mid-range. This year, with LeBron indicating that Love will be used more like he was in his last year with the Wolves, Love seems destined to be a mix of 2012-13 Love and 2013-14 Love in terms of how and wear he gets his points.

Defensively, however, Love creates problems for the Cavs to solve, albeit problems that aren't unsolvable by any stretch of the imagination. At 6'9" and not possessing the wingspan or lateral quickness necessary to defend and switch everything a la Draymond Green, Love has to supplemented by those around him and that includes his fellow fours.

The Cavaliers' other power forwards - Tristan Thompson, if/when he returns, and James Jones - can do this in theory. Thompson gobbles up rebounds and loose balls like he's a vacuum and truly functions best as a five - and last year, he only played the four spot on one of the Cavs' top-20 most used lineups per even if he doesn't protect the rim. Per Nylon Calculus' rim protection stats, Thompson was only .5 percent better than Love in terms of rim field goal percentage allowed. Thompson, though, adept at stepping out into space and switching on pick and rolls. When he and Love inevitably rack up minutes together - last year, Love and Thompson were the Cavs' seventh most used two-man lineups per basketball-reference - this allows the Cavs to let Love defending the lesser the opposition's offensive threats and focus on playing functional team defense instead of having to play suffocating man-to-man defense every time he's on defense.

Thompson, of course, is also a limited offense player whose best abilities on that end of the floor revolve around his rebounding ability. On offense, he is best served either putting shots back up or just grabbing rebounds so other's can shoot. Just take a look at his shot chart via Nylon Calculus:

Jones, while no likely to play a ton this year given his niche abilities and age, gives the Cavs some intriguing options as well. Defensively, he's not at all laterally mobile and if teams can find away to attack him they will. His shooting, though, means that in certain situations he can either A) somewhat replicate the space Love creates or B) can play some minuets at the three to let Love play inside with either Thompson of Timofey Mozgov.

The other angle at play here is how much LeBron will slide down from the small forward spot and either bump Love to the five , where he'd be undersized against most teams and take away both of the defensive anchors the Cavs have on their roster.

Love at the five is interesting, though, on offense and there's an argument to be made that it would unlock some theoretically killer offensive lineups. Love at the five could allow the Cavs to go five-out and get Love some one-on-one looks inside with everyone else on the floor cutting and weaving around him if he decides to pass instead of shooting. For stretches, a lineup of Irving, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert/Richard Jefferson, LeBron and Love might allow the Cavs to move up and down the floor at a quicker-than-normal pace and rack up points on opposing teams. This could work with Thomson too, but the offensive isn't quite as deadly because Thompson is neither a post-up threat or a shooter.

LeBron, however, wasn't totally interested in playing down a position the Cavs' roster has enough functional bigs - in theory, Love, Thompson, Mozgov, Anderson Varejao and Sasha Kaun are all deserving of minutes - that playing LeBron at four for a meaningful number of minutes might not make a ton of sense if he doesn't want to. This of course, could all go out the window if Varejao doesn't return to being some version of himself and/or Kaun doesn't end up being an NBA-quality big. Thompson's on-going holdout - which maybe forces LeBron to play the four or means Varejao has to play that spot, something he hasn't done in a few seasons - plays a factor as well.

This all, of course, comes back to Love. He's too good to not be used as the Cavs' main power forward and used in a way that lets him be the player the Cavs traded for last year. But no matter how he's used, everything works off Love. For 30-35 minutes a night, to be Kevin Love is to be the Cavaliers' power forwards.