Monday night, Kevin Love played in the second game of a preseason back-to-back. That might sound like pretty mundane information to most people, but it tells me something important - he feels close to 100 percent healthy, and the team's training staff believes the same thing. Seven exhibition games are too many, and teams often take the opportunity to rest stars while utilizing the extra depth afforded them by expanded rosters. The Cavs opted instead to play Love 22 minutes the night after he made his debut, undoubtedly as a test to see how his body would respond.
So how did he look?
For starters - and this is purely subjective, as someone who has been watching Love closely for the past five years - it appears that he's in the best shape of his career. His weight has vacillated a bit from season to season, but right now he looks stronger than he ever has before. This past summer's regimen has been well-documented, by Dave McMenamin for ESPN.com a couple of weeks ago as well as a recent Players' Tribune video that followed his workouts in Park City, Utah.
How has it translated to the court? In his first game, Love sank just 2-of-7 field goals and went 0-for-3 from beyond the arc. He did supply a couple of highlight passes, but overall, it was exactly the kind of showing one would expect from a guy playing his first live game in nearly six months - rusty. Monday night was also a bit underwhelming, at least according to the box score (4-of-11 shooting and just 4 rebounds in 22 minutes), but looking a bit closer at the video reveals some encouraging signs, as well as one aspect of his game that isn't at his customary elite level. Yet.
1. Comfort level fosters court vision, and court vision fosters BUCKETS
The other day, I argued that the ball ought to be in Love's hands more often this season, not just because he's an efficient scorer, but because he's one of the game's best passing big men. In the following video, he shows three different means of distribution: high-low with Timofey Mozgov (something he used to do all the time, and with great effect, when paired with Nikola Pekovic in Minnesota), making a quick, crisp pass to get the ball moving on the perimeter, and creating off the dribble (an underrated part of his game). See for yourself:
The final two examples in the video don't result in made baskets, but they are good looks. Whatever lineup he's in, Love instantly improves ball movement, which is good for everyone.
2. Moving well to free himself up for threes, surprisingly nimble in transition, too
Part of Kevin Love's rocky adjustment to David Blatt's offense last season had to do with a huge shift in where his shots were being taken, but there's more to 3-point marksmanship than preference and practice reps. Love has a textbook shot form for a big man - he's adept at moving his feet into the right position to execute "the hop" (as the guys at BBallBreakdown explain). Thus, Love's legs and back are vital to his success as a shooter - if any part of his lower body or core isn't feeling right, it can throw everything off. Last season, he dealt with back spasms, and played through them, and has had a few minor knee issues in the past as well.
But none of that seems to be happening now. Granted, he's just 2-of-8 overall beyond the arc in the preseason, but the various ways he's moving to get his shot off is encouraging - whether he's backpedaling to the corner or wing, or coming off of a screen on a set play, Love seems to be moving quickly and confidently, without a second thought:
The transition play at the end of the video, with Iman Shumpert's heartfelt praise dubbed over it ("it's so good to have him back, man") is the best example yet of Love's good health. While his athleticism is often overlooked, Love doesn't exactly finish on the break very often, so to see him run the floor aggressively (and successfully) was a welcome sign.
3. His post game isn't all the way back, yet.
Something that may need a little more time and work before it's up to the usual elite level is Kevin Love's work in the post. While he still commands a double team, and is excellent at finding open teammates by passing out of it, Love had a bit of a rough night when he was fed the ball down on the block:
That's a really, really small sample size, but it's something to keep an eye on, nonetheless. When Love gets going in the post, he can carry an offense, which could be a useful asset to the Cavaliers if LeBron needs to take it easy and Kyrie is really going to be out until January.
In short, Love looks healthy, and playing the second night of a back-to-back seemed to have no ill effect on his game. If Cleveland needs a bell cow to help shoulder the offensive burden until the Big Three reunites and resumes their Flying Death Machine act, it appears K. Love is ready to answer the challenge.