From the moment LeBron James departed for Los Angeles, Kevin Love’s role was to be a face of the Cavaliers. That became literally true when he signed a massive extension.
To say that Love has not met the expectations of the team nor the fans is an understatement. For a variety of reasons, it would be safe to say he has worn out Cavalier fans. However, with a new season accompanied by a new role, it appears that Love is comfortable and succeeding in a different light.
Love’s play over the years has become very malleable to what the team demands that given year. Back in Minnesota, Love was a back-to-basket big man often operating at the elbow, having to work for every point given the lack of talent on those Timberwolves teams. For a moment, he was legitimately one of the best players in the league. When traded to Cleveland, Love had to change his game to more of a three-point shooter off of screens set for either LeBron or Kyrie Irving.
Now, there again there seems to be a shift in his style. In this iteration, he operates as an offensive hub of sorts off the bench. This doesn’t mean that Love should dominate possessions and have the weight of the offense on his shoulders. Instead, Love helps brings a flow to the offense in ways that the Cavs haven’t seen from their bench unit in years.
Through the first few weeks of the season, Love seems to be taking on some of what Larry Nance Jr. did last year, at least on offense. Love may even be better fit for the Nance role due to the gravity that he demands from opposing defenses when he’s spotting from three-point range. No matter how much the Cleveland faithful loved Nance and what he brought to the table, no one could say that his shot was feared or reliable.
Even though to this point Love hasn’t been shooting well (37.6% from the field and 27.8% from three-point range) he is still creating great spacing for others. According to Cleaning the Glass, Love is ranked as the third-best player on the Cavaliers in assist percentage currently. With a 14.3% assist percentage, Love is only ranked behind Ricky Rubio (34%) and Darius Garland (34.6%). Love allows the Cavs to not be so dependent on the two guards to initiate offensive flow. Ball movement seems contagious at times when you see lineups with Rubio and Love together especially. The two veterans off the bench truly have unlocked something that recent Cleveland offenses haven’t had and seem to have some natural chemistry based on their time together with the Wolves.
In years past when Garland wasn’t on the floor, the offense would stagger. A lot of offensive situations would result in one player pounding the air out of the ball. Instead, with two pass-first guards (Garland and Rubio) and two bigs who also can threaten defenses by operating as secondary offensive hubs (Evan Mobley and Love), current defenses are struggling to keep up with the ball movement and cuts.
This is a Love the Cavs can use and, assuming he stays healthy, rely on as a rotation piece as the team tries to make a playoff push this year. He’s not longer a star and that seems to suit him.