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Sports Illustrated’s Top 100 ranks Kevin Love at No. 31

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SI isn’t feeling the Love heading into this season.

Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

In case you haven’t noticed, we are firmly in the most dead point of the NBA offseason. So that means that many outlets are coming out with their discussion-forcing rankings to drum up controversy, discussion, and some much needed attention.

We kick off ranking season with Sports Illustrated’s Top 100 list. The combined work of Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney, the Top 100 list is a breakdown of where players stand heading into next season with the following mix of past production, and future projection:

Given the wide variety of candidates involved and the deep analytical resources available, no single, definitive criterion was used to form this list. Instead, rankings were assigned based on a fluid combination of subjective assessment and objective data. This list is an attempt to evaluate each player in a vacuum, independent of his current team context as much as possible. A player’s prospects beyond the 2018-19 season did not play a part in the ranking process.

The lone appearance for the Cleveland Cavaliers on the SI Top 100 list is Kevin Love, who came in at #31. In a league where the talent was evenly distributed among the 30 teams, that would mean that Love is the best second-option in the league.

Love is, of course, now the face of the Cavaliers and the obvious lead option. Unless SI throws a real curveball with their yet-to-be-released top 30, there won’t be any other Cavs on the list.

Here is what Rob Mahoney had to say about Love and his ranking:

Let’s establish, first, what Love (17.6 PPG, 9.3 RPG) is not. Love is not a helpful defender. One stop—no matter how crucial—doesn’t overwrite hours of film in which Love has been targeted and exploited. Love is not a primary scorer for a playoff-caliber team. The memory of Minnesota Love isn’t just five years old, but a relic of a different time altogether. Even if he could tap back into that version of himself, today’s defenses are better schooled in tracking Princeton-style movement and more aware of Love’s limitations. Love, though, is not just a role player. The cost of playing alongside LeBron James is the reduction of your game to its most basic elements. That got the Cavs to four straight Finals but reduced Love to a standstill shooter in the process.

Love can make that work (he rated as one of the most efficient spot-up shooters in the league last season, per Synergy Sports), but not only that. The great casualty of his move to Cleveland was the opportunity to make plays. When the Cavs put the ball in Love’s hands, they did so with the intention that he get buckets rather than run offense. It’s an important distinction. Love doesn’t really have the handle or the post game to manufacture shots on command. But letting him read the action for an offense that actually moves could work to the benefit of all involved. Love, even through the simplest implementation, is a star who can create real problems for opposing bigs. The only question is how far his team wants to go to maximize what he does best. — RM

One thing that I would note is that I think the assessment of Love on defense isn’t necessarily fair. When playing at center, as he was asked to do often last season, Love is clearly over-matched at best and a liability at worst. However when playing at his natural position at power forward he has improved dramatically and overall has a positive impact.

Without LeBron James on the team, I would anticipate the experiment of Love at center to be shut down entirely. Larry Nance Jr, Tristan Thompson, and Ante Zizic all will likely require minutes at the position. Plus the Cavs will likely go with a more traditional look moving forward.

How Love was used over the last four years was a constant talking point. Even when the team utilized him more, especially last season, the perception of him being just a spot-up shooter seemed to stick.

I don’t think this ranking is unfair, but I do think there is a potential for Love to rehab his image and show what he can be as a lead option. The ranking may be accurate, as the league is deeper with talent than it’s ever been. But the analysis seems to sell Love a little short.

As with many players, management, and coaches on the Cavs next season, Love will need to once again prove his worth outside of the presence of LeBron James.