Dissecting the play of Kevin Love throughout his tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers has been a fairly regular occurrence. Given the ball-dominant nature of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in past seasons, Love was forced to take on a more complimentary role. At this point in the season, it’s hard to say that there has been a dramatic shift in the ways the team uses Love. However, there have been more subtle changes that have lead to him having one of the best seasons of his career to this point.
It seems like every year, we hear about how the team is going to work to get Love more involved. While we saw a noteworthy change last season, without Irving there was some hope that he would be able to pick up the slack.
This year Love is averaging 19.2 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. While those numbers are similar to the 19 points and 11.1 rebounds per game he averaged last season, he’s doing it in two minutes per game fewer than last season.
In addition to matching last year’s production in fewer minutes, Love is also averaging a career highs in field goal, three point, and free throw percentage. His rebound percentage of 20.2 is also his highest since the 2012-2013 season.
He is also scoring in ways we haven’t seen during his time in Cleveland, as he is shooting 1.5 fewer threes per game, but is making it up for it by attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line. His free throw rate this season of .431 is considerably higher than the .332 he averaged through his first three years with the Cavs.
But getting to the free throw line isn’t the only way Love’s approach has changed this season. 9.3 percent of his field goal attempts have come off cuts this season, compared to 3.9 percent the year prior. The frequency of his spot up shots has also decreased by 4.2 percent to 19.2 percent.
Tyronn Lue seems to have implemented more sets and looks for Love to help keep him active on the offensive end. By decreasing his minutes this season, Love has been able to increase his activity in the minutes he is on the court.
The reduced minutes may also be an attempt to mitigate the physical toll playing at center has on Love. While teams still guard him primarily with power forwards or wings to deal with his outside play, he still has to defend larger centers on defense. While Love has dropped hints that he wants to move back to power forward, that just isn't possible until Tristan Thompson returns. So the fact Lue has been able to manage the increased physical toll on Love, while still getting the same production in fewer minutes has been impressive..
The sample size is still relatively small, and it’s unclear how his usage will change once Isaiah Thomas returns. As the team gets healthy, Love will inevitably has his role change and be forced to adjust.
His minutes may increase and looks may decrease, but the team has established a foundation with him and found ways to use him better than they had in the past. His quiet emergence has helped the Cavs weather the storm as they deal with the injuries that have plagued the team.
Over the 13 game winning streak, Love's plus/minus (+5.7) and net rating (+7.4) are even higher than LeBron James, who's ratings are +2.9 and +3.7 respectively. While his overall impact still pales in comparison to James, he's stepped up and been the true second option the team has needed for this stretch.