I’m trying my hardest not to get too excited about Kevin Love‘s impressive performance since returning from his recent broken hand. In the past two games, he’s scored a combined 41 points and pulled down 19 rebounds. Small sample size it may be, it clearly helped the Cleveland Cavaliers continue their current three-game winning streak.
Obviously, the possibility remains that Love will eventually come back down to earth. At the same time, I’m of the belief he might be on the verge of playing his best basketball since coming to Cleveland.
The reason for this is simple – Love is much better when playing as the team’s second scoring option.
This may be seen as some sort of jab against one of his former teammates, Kyrie Irving, though it’s not meant to be. Irving is immensely talented, and it was only natural to have him be Cleveland’s No.2 option on offense behind LeBron James during Love’s first three seasons with the Cavs.
At the same time, there’s no denying the negative impact this had on him. Love’s transition from carrying the offense with the Minnesota Timberwolves to spending most nights standing in the corner waiting for a pass made his transition with Cleveland extremely difficult. He became a focal point of trade rumors for three straight seasons, deemed by many as someone who just wasn’t going to fit with the Cavs.
Though a strong 2016 postseason helped quiet fan frustration, the tendency for Love to fade out of nightly game-plans never fully disappeared. Despite Cleveland opening some games by running the offense through him, said nights often ended with his getting overlooked in the second half.
It appears the biggest problem for Love was sharing the court with two ball-dominant players. You don’t have to search too hard to find evidence of how such a situation negatively affects how he plays.
Take a look at his game log from the 2015-16 season, and you can practically pinpoint the exact moment Irving returned from the knee surgery he underwent the previous summer. Love spent the first month of this campaign looking better than ever, averaging 19.9 PPG and 11.8 rebounds per game. When Irving came back on December 20, the stats started to get more inconsistent. Games of 20 or more points became more infrequent as Love was once again relegated to his role as the team’s third banana.
A similar trend can be seen this season. Love finished last December averaging an impressive 22.2 PPG, one of his most productive months in Cleveland. Come January, when new teammate Isaiah Thomas made his debut, we saw the inconsistencies return. Love’s scoring fluctuated over the next 12 games before breaking his hand.
Thomas – who had a penchant for hijacking the offense and limiting Love’s looks – has since been traded. Starting in his place is newly acquired guard George Hill, who doesn’t share the same “shoot first, pass maybe” approach as Thomas and Irving.
As a result, I’m led to believe we’re about to see more consistent scoring from Love as we near the postseason.
The simple fact is Love is far more effective when he’s a key aspect of the offense. His game is livelier, he’s more engaged and his nights of great shooting occur far more frequently. The end result is significantly improved confidence, something Love struggled mightily with when he first joined the Cavs.
When he’s simply third in line behind James and a dribble-happy point guard, he becomes a non-factor. He’s essentially a decoy for the defense, someone to drag an opposing big man away from the paint and potentially catch a pass.
This won’t be the case anymore. Love will once again be a driving force for Cleveland’s offense, only it won’t be a temporary situation.
As a result, I would expect him to thrive in the coming weeks. He’ll no longer be fighting for shot attempts, nor will he be having his fit with the team constantly in question. This will be new territory for Love, and I believe it’ll result in him finally feeling comfortable with this team for the first time in four years.