I’m not sure if there’s a player in the league who’s misjudged more based on the perception around them. The conversation about Kevin Love focuses on what he isn’t instead of what he is. He’s judged for no longer being the dominant top-ten player in the league like he was from 2012-14. He’s judged for not leading that team to the playoffs when he was dominant. He’s judged for not being a great defender. He’s judged for not being vocal leader. He’s judged for his body language on the court. And the list could keep on going.
These criticisms overlook just how good of a player Love still is as he enters his 13th season in the league.
What last season was like
Your average NBA fan probably didn’t think Love had a great season last year. The Cavs were a bad team and Love didn’t put up gaudy numbers as he averaged 17.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. While Love didn’t have a great season last year, it was probably a better season than many realize.
Last season was Love’s second-most efficient scoring season of his career. He posted a true shooting percentage of 59.9% and an effective field goal percentage of 55.0%. This success is due mostly to his incredible three-point shooting. Love shot 37.4% from deep on 7.0 attempts per game. According to stats.nba.com, Love was in the 81.7 percentile on spot up shots as he posted an effective field goal percentage of 57.2% on 3.1 spot-ups a game.
Another, and possibly overlooked, reason for Love’s efficient season was his effective incorporation of the mid-range shot. Love shot 46.7% from 16 feet to the three-point line and 60.5% from 10 to 16 feet. Love also shot 66.0% inside the restricted area which is good for second-best in his career from that distance. With that said, last season marked the lowest percentage of shots in his career from the restricted area.
We’ve consistently seen Love’s free throw rate and percentage of shots coming from inside the restricted area go down. He’s not a back-to-the-basket type of player anymore and he isn’t a guy who is going to get to the line more than 5.5 times a game anymore. However, he’s still found a way to score effectively as he’s aged by making use of a solid mid-range shot while still relying on catch-and-shoot threes.
What his role could look like
Love should still be the focal point of the offense when he’s on the court. He won’t average a team-high in points or shot attempts per game but, he should still be the featured guy. Love still demands the most attention from the defense and doesn’t have the game to create his own shot. With those two things in mind, I would like to see the offense focus on getting Love the ball in areas he can attack.
Key stat to watch
Love is a good playmaker who often hasn’t had the opportunity to showcase those abilities in Cleveland. Hopefully, that changes this year. I’m going to pay close attention to Love’s assists per game and his assist percentage (a percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while on the floor). Love had 3.2 assists per game last year and had an assist percentage of 15.4%.
I’d like to see Love’s assist per game a little closer to four this campaign. He still has tremendous gravity on the perimeter and should have better offensive help around him as Collin Sexton and Darius Garland should be more polished offensive weapons and Andre Drummond is a good scoring center. Ideally, I’d like to see him create from the triple-threat position in the area from 16 feet to just beyond the arc. He’s shown the willingness to take and make shots in that area, maybe he can use that this season to get some more assists.
If Love is being incorporated correctly in the offense the assists should come naturally. If the offense isn’t running through him, then he’s going to be closer to the two assists per game numbers we saw when he first arrived in Cleveland. Not having the offense run through you is fine when LeBron James is in town. The same can’t be justified as easily now.
I think Love will have a similarly efficient scoring season. I believe we will see a shooting splits around 44/37/87. Those shooting splits should produce a similarly efficient scoring season. His days of averaging 20+ points per game are over, but it’s possible to see his points per game number closer to 18.
I think we’re going to see Love play with his back-to-the-basket less this year than ever before. That kind of game doesn’t make sense with Drummond in town and his ability to draw and finish through contact isn’t the same as it used to be. I think we’ll see him do most of his damage in the midrange and from distance.
Love isn’t an all-NBA talent anymore and he probably won’t make an all-star team, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a great player. He is one of the most efficient and deadly three-point shooters in the league. I’m excited to see what Love will do on a team that could be on the upswing.