Regardless of how the Cleveland Cavaliers have performed over the last two seasons, Kevin Love has always been under the microscope. His sacrifices for the good of the team never seem to get the recognition you’d expect. But if the early returns from this season are any indication, the load he is carrying will gain attention for much better reasons.
It is clear that Love is a different player physically this year. He is moving around the court with much more ease than in the past. His upper body strength is also clearly improved. Heading into last season he wasn’t able to work on his upper body strength post shoulder surgery, while this year he’s added mass and strength. When you combine that mobility with a better understanding of his role, you begin to see the signs of a far more dangerous weapon for the Cavaliers.
Love’s usage rate is up to 29.2, which is similar to the 28.8 he posted in his final year in Minnesota. There are a combination of factors that have lead to this increase. With the starters, Love’s usage rate balloons to 32.5 (per NBAwowy). 44.9 percent of his shots are coming from beyond the arc (career high), while taking it stronger to the basket and drawing free throws at a career best rate of 48.9. The increase in three point and free throw rate have helped make up for his poor shooting percentages early on. He has a 52.5 true shooting percentage, despite shooting well below his career averages from three and the floor.
He is also being used a lot with the second unit in lineups without a point guard. The absence of an established backup point guard means that the Cavs need somebody to initiate offense when Kyrie Irving and LeBron James are off the court. Early on it looks as though Love will get some time as the offensive hub.
This is all a small sample size, of course, and it’s possible his touches will go down once he is shooting it better and the team doesn’t feel the same need to get him going. But an increased in role for Love is a positive thing for Cleveland.
Keeping LeBron fresh is obviously a priority for the Cavs, who have shown the regular season is relatively meaningless. Between the blossoming Irving and a more assertive Love, James can probe through the game and just let the plays come to him. His basketball IQ is out of this world and allowing him to just sit back and make the right play, rather than relying on him can allow him to be dangerous while also preserving him. James is assisting 40% of his teammates’ baskets when the starters are on the court, while his usage rate is down to a career low 25.8.
The switch to the postseason usage of LeBron isn’t a tough adjustment to make. The Cavs have proven they know how to win and the trust the team has earned from LeBron is what makes this redistribution of usage possible. Allowing James to play off ball will help him increase his shooting percentage, and by calling more plays designed to get Irving and Love looks it helps maximize their abilities.
A reduced load, plus more efficiency can allow James to preserve himself as well as still contend for another MVP. As long as he’s in uniform, James will be the heart of the team. He’s the motor that makes the machine run, that doesn’t mean that he has to carry the same offensive load as he always has. Reestablishing Love as an All Star is good for both he and the team. They may even find another offensive gear beyond what they’ve had in the past along the way.