I’ll admit I have never loved the (soon-to-be) newest Cleveland Cavalier, Kevin Love.
I’ve long viewed Love as a stat-sheet stuffer, but one who lacks key intangibles that the true NBA superstars possess.
Last season, Love’s Minnesota Timberwolves were 5-13 in games decided by four points or fewer. To me, that screams that Love crumbles in fourth quarters — something that the numbers confirm.
Love, night after night, was nowhere to be found in “clutch time” — defined as the last five minutes of fourth quarters and overtimes, with neither team leading by more than five points. With Love on the court in those situations, the T’Wolves were outscored in total by 80 points and by 25.3 points per 48 minutes. Love shot only 35.6 percent from the field and made fewer than 66 percent of his free throws.
(Statistics courtesy of 82games.com.)
Not shockingly, the Timberwolves missed the playoffs for the sixth time in as many seasons since drafting Love fifth overall in the 2008 NBA Draft.
However you choose to slice it, no other star consistently misses the playoffs like Love has. Even Carmelo Anthony — who, like Love, has rarely been given a formidable supporting cast — has made the playoffs ten times in 11 seasons.
For my sake, the verdict is out on Kevin Love. He can fill up a stat-line like no other but, because he has so often wilted under the pressure and because he can’t even get his team to the playoffs, he can’t be deemed a superstar.
Again, I am not Kevin Love’s biggest supporter. So it might surprise you when I say — now that Love is on board — I expect the Cavaliers to win the 2015 NBA Finals.
Clearly, Love has always been the No. 1 option offensively and the sole star in Minnesota. But I believe a player like him — a star but not a superstar — makes the ideal second or third option on an NBA team. That’s exactly what Love will be in Cleveland, where he will be playing Robin to LeBron James’s Batman.
Love will thrive off of the point guard tendencies of LeBron, who is quietly one of the best all-time passers.
There’s a reason shooting specialists — see: Mike Miller, Ray Allen, and Shane Battier — flock to play with LeBron. He puts them in better and easier positions to score than any other NBA player can. He’ll do the same with Love, who ranked fifth a season ago among all players in points per game on catch-and-shoot plays.
Love will also provide something to LeBron that he did not have in Miami: a dominant rebounder. In both the 2012-13 and 2013-14 regular seasons, LeBron’s Heat ranked 30th (dead last) in rebounding.
Yet Miami still won the 2013 NBA Finals and made the 2014 Finals, defying everything I thought I knew about the NBA. At times I found myself wondering how good LeBron’s team would be if it could just grab a few rebounds.
Now, we might found out. Last season, Kevin Love ranked third in rebounds per game and the Timberwolves ranked sixth in rebounding.
The Cavaliers were already the 11th best rebounding team in the league in 2014. Add Love (andLeBron, a career 7.2 RPG player) to the mix and I don’t see a reason why they won’t become a top-five rebounding team in 2015.
But, more than anything else, what sold me on Kevin Love and his prospects as a second option were — and this might sound silly, but hear me out — the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. There, on a team full of NBA All-Stars, Love was a key component during Team USA’s gold medal run. He scored 11.6 points per game, led the team in rebounding, and only three of his teammates (LeBron, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul) played significantly more minutes than he did.
Against Spain in the surprisingly-close gold-medal game, Love played most of the fourth quarter and was substituted out only when the outcome had already been decided.
Clearly, Mike Krzyzewski — whom I consider to be the greatest coach of basketball ever — saw something in Kevin Love, something that warranted playing him in the most important moments of the most important game of the most important international basketball tournament.
It was all I needed to declare Love capable of being one of basketball’s best supporting stars.
That’s good news for the Cavaliers. Even better, they have a third star and a second supporting star on their roster: Kyrie Irving.
Remember, Kyrie played just one game last year with other talented NBA players. In that game, he went 14-of-17 for 31 points and added 14 assists.
It was the All-Star Game in New Orleans and Irving was named the game’s MVP.
But in the 71 games he appeared in that counted, Irving played on a pathetic Cleveland team coached by Mike Brown, and he seldom played as well as he did in the All-Star Game.
Like the 2012 Olympics for Love, the 2014 All-Star Game was a sneak-peek at how special Kyrie can be with some help.
Kyrie is just 22 years old. Love is 26. Both are only getting better. Their bodies are fresh enough to endure an 82-game season without missing significant time, which will aid them in taking pressure and responsibility away from LeBron James, something Dwyane Wade failed to do a season ago.
Wade missed 28 games last season, leaving the Heat with no choice but to rely on LeBron to carry them through the regular season. It wore LeBron out. He was gassed by mid-June, when the Heat were blown off the court in three straight losses to the San Antonio Spurs.
Still, LeBron managed to take a declining Wade and Chris Bosh — one who was suddenly far too reliant on his jumper — to within three wins of a third consecutive NBA championship.
Now, he gets Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, not to mention Mike Miller, probably Shawn Marion, and probably Ray Allen.
In a weak Eastern Conference, where the Pacers will not have Paul George and where the Bulls’ success depends on Derrick Rose’s health, the Cavaliers should walk into the 2015 NBA Finals, and LeBron should be able to stay relatively fresh in doing so, thanks to his new and improved “Big Three.” A fresh and rested LeBron in the NBA Finals is a LeBron who won’t be beat.
Before the Love trade was first reported by Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski, you might have been able to convince me that the Bulls were the East’s best team. Not anymore.
Believe me, I never thought I could be this high on a team’s acquisition of Kevin Love.
But here I am.
Love has finally accepted that he isn’t cut out to be the alpha dog on an NBA team. By intending to commit long-term to the Cavs, he has officially embraced his now permanent role as a sidekick.
Now that’s a Kevin Love that I can Love. And it’s also one who will catapult the Cavaliers to a level they couldn’t reach in LeBron’s first stint: the NBA championship.