n The day after the NBA Finals, when the surreal feeling of the Cavs winning their first title started to settle a bit, hypotheticals started to swirl around my brain. I wanted to step into a parallel universe, just for a moment, to see how the narratives surrounding LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were different, based on a matter of seconds. What if the chase down block never happened? What if Curry hit that three even after Love’s solid defense on that pivotal possession? What if Kyrie didn’t hit that cold-blooded dagger three against the reigning MVP? What if LeBron missed both free throws?
Shaping a legacy (LeBron) and proving your value to an top-tier team in an ever-changing league (Love, Kyrie) can change in a matter of seconds. Even after falling on his wrist, and having two dominant finals series’ in a row, if LeBron misses those free throws, he’s not clutch. He’s loses down the stretch. He’s not Jordan. If Kyrie misses, he’s not ready for that size of a stage. And, if Curry hits that three against Love, he’s not playable in the modern NBA. Not just against the anomaly that is the Warriors. But, in the entire NBA. And you certainly can’t win a championship with him. It’s a looming cloud that’s been following Love ever since he was traded to Cleveland — a series of criticisms and absolutes that turned him from a beloved league gem on a struggling franchise into a scapegoat on a shiny new contender. Although these things tend to happen when you play next to LeBron, most of the noise wasn’t fair, although his season wasn’t perfect either. So, let’s look at some things that he did well and other things that he struggled with.
What went well
1. He almost averaged a double-double, and his shooting percentages haven’t dipped much since he left Minnesota
While his numbers expectably dropped, going from 26 points and 12 rebounds during his last season Minnesota to 16 and nine this year in Cleveland, his shooting percentages, especially from three — 37 percent his last year as a Timberwolf, 36 percent this season — aren’t all that much different, although they are slighting lower across the board, as he shaved four percent off of his total FG%. But, they don’t tell the story of a disaster; rather just someone who takes six less shots a game than he did during that last season in Minnesota, and hasn’t been shooting quite as well. Comparatively, Chris Bosh scored 16 points and pulled down six rebounds a game in 2012-13, the year the Heat defended their championship. Bosh was more efficient from two, shooting over 50 percent, and less efficient from three, shooting 33 percent, but his stats also dropped substantially when he moved to a team with LeBron and another ball dominant scorer. That’s what happens. But, if you contribute more than 15 points a game and almost 10 rebounds to a championship team, we’ll call that a win.
2. The Cavs experimented more with his versatility this year
Love was less of an escape-hatch, hover-by-the-arc player used to space the floor (although it is still a useful scenario for him in certain instances), and more of a scoring option. With a team that has two ball-dominant scorers, it’s hard to give Love — who I very much believe to be a player that needs easy looks early to get him rolling — the touches he’s capable of commanding, but the Cavs were a lot more clever with him this year — bringing him off screens, getting him the ball on the block, putting him in positions to connect on that jump hook. I don’t think they’ve fully figured out how to integrate Love into the offense to where he can reach his full potential within the context of the team (more on this later), but, although there were struggles with identity over the course of his first two seasons in Cleveland, you can see glimmers of Love’s ceiling in a Cavs uniform. Earlier this year, I wrote about the balancing act with the Big Three and documented some ways the Cavs were looking to make Love "the focal point" of the offense, and, moving forward, this season provided evidence that there’s room for growth.
3.He shot well from deep in the playoffs
41.4 percent to be exact, which is a solid bump from his normal percentage. The Cavs rained threes early and often in the playoffs and he was a part of that.
1.He once again struggled with his identity within the team
To be fair, expectations in a vacuum and what you’re capable of doing on a nightly basis when you’re beside two other stars are much different, so that’s more of a murky thing than a crystal dichotomy, and, because of that, he’ll probably never be able to live up to the ideals that surround him. That being said, he still sometimes seemed lost in terms of his role. And the team at times seemed lost in terms of establishing a role for him. Really, it’s the flip side to the positive listed above — that the Cavs experimented with him more this year. On one hand, exploring what Love can do on this team says that they’re committed to finding different ways to get him involved. On the other, it’s because he’s struggled to naturally integrate. "There's no blueprint for what I should be doing," Love told cleveland.com in winter of 2015, referencing his role as a floor spacer. A lot of time has passed since then, but the struggle to properly find his identity in a Cavs uniform was still apparent this year.
2) His lack of lateral quickness was exposed on switches
He also tends to get sucked into screens and cuts poor angles on pick n rolls. This was especially exposed during the Warriors’ series. But, not every team is the Warriors, who can virtually play slower bigs off the floor. Regardless, this is something that was problematic at some level throughout the year. And it will follow him into next season, where he is going to have to at least slightly improve in order to stay relevant in big games.
3) He shot poorly at the rim in the playoffs
34.2 percent on 76 attempts. He seemed to get bullied down low, sometimes even by smaller defenders, something that is concerning for a player that has to make up his subpar rim protection on the offensive end.