The Cavaliers are playing faster and more aggressively on offense since Kevin Love returned to the court. Case in point:
The DNA of this play is simple. Love gets the rebound and he immediately flings the pass to Collin Sexton, who is across half court with 22 seconds left on the shot clock. Sexton immediately pushes and gets to the rim, but passes out to Osman with 19 seconds left. Osman then quickly passes to Love, who the Trail Blazers have forgotten to guard at the top of the key. Love shoots with 17 seconds left and the Cavs get an easy basket as a result.
The Cavs’ offense has not created many easy baskets this season — the league’s 26th best offense at 105.7 points per 100 possessions, per nba.com/stats, is proof. In the last three games, the three games where Love has played in the 22-28 minute range he’s expected to moving forward, the Cavs are 14th in the league at 111.4 points per 100 possessions, per nba.com/stats. That’s a jump from putrid to respectable.
With Love on the court, the Cavs are also playing a bit faster and it’s because of sets like the one above. For the year, Cleveland works 1.5 seconds faster on average per possession with Love on the floor — a mark that puts the Cavs just a tad faster than the league average. It’s about the same difference in possession length in Steph Curry being on and off the floor for the Warriors. Factor out Love’s minutes and they would have the longest average possession length in the entire league.
The reason for this jump is that the team’s offense is pushing every chance it gets with Love either starting the push, benefiting from it or both. A set the Cavs have come to rely on is where Love trails slightly behind the ball handler — in this case, Osman — and sets up for a quick three-pointer:
“At that time when they start collapsing, trying to guard me, then I can pass to Kevin, which I did a couple times today,” Osman said after Cleveland played Portland on Monday. “He was running behind me, I just pitched to him and screened his guy so he had a wide-open three. That kind of play is really important for us and for the team.”
Another look the Cavs are starting to use is where Love starts off ball, feigns screening Osman’s man and instead pops open for three when a big — in this case, Ante Zizic — sets a wide pindown screen:
At this point in his career, and with how the league has changed, this may be what an adapted version of main option Love looks like. In his last three games, Love is primarily taking shots at the rim or from three; mid-range shots are just an occasional curiosity. With the Timberwolves in 2013-14 — the last time Love was a true lead option — he took a large percentage of his shots in the middle of the floor, particularly around the left elbow he so famously operated out of.
Now, Love isn’t all the way back yet. He’s said he doesn’t quite have his wind back just yet. According to head coach Larry Drew, he’s going to remain on a minutes restriction going forward and will likely sit out long stretches during the game so Drew can have him on the floor at the end of the game. But when he is out there, he’s making the Cavs better.
“Just by spacing the floor, the other team has to react to that,” Love said on Monday. “Being able to play inside out, being able to pass the ball. I think all of us have been jelling in practice, and the more time out there together the better we’re going to get.”