Kevin Love became the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob McAdoo to average 26 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists in an NBA season last year. It was the first time since 1976 that a member of the Association accomplished as much. He posted a league-leading 65 double-doubles along the way, improving his career total to 256 since arriving from UCLA as the fifth overall pick in 2008.
Heading into his seventh professional season, the 26-year-old Love has finished games with 30-plus points and 15-plus rebounds 27 times. That number ranks third among all active players, behind only Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard. He was the NBA’s fourth-leading scorer last season, third-leading rebounder, and returned from injury to log a career-high 2,797 minutes in 77 games.
He’s a really good player, with really good numbers, who is very much deserving of the No. 10 spot in the #SLAMTop50 this year.
Playing now alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, however, Love’s statistical output may not be as eye-popping. But that will not be indicative of the All-NBA power forward taking any sort of step back. Love will continue to dominate offensively whenever the ball is in his hands. He will consistently impact games at both ends of the floor with his relentless attack of the glass. By season’s end, he may also help prove Cleveland’s version of the Big Three a more natural fit alongside James than what we saw in Miami.
Defenses must obviously double LeBron James. They will also need to double Irving. When he catches it deep in a post-up position, Love will require a double as well. He will force interior defenders to extend out to contest his ability from long-range, and create spacing and driving lanes for teammates because of all that. He is also, as Tristan Thompson described, a “great passer” who can find teammates cutting open in the half-court, while using herculean outlet passes to trigger the fast break. In short, Love’s presence will make his superstar teammates better every time he steps on the floor.
Love will not match his career-high 26.1 points from a year ago with the Cavs. He also won’t reach individual NBA milestones that have remained untouched for 40 years. Field-goal attempts will be divided among three superstars, and others, in hopes of pursuing an NBA Championship. Despite that, the power forward from Lake Oswego (Or) High will remain an unstoppable force in the painted area requiring the utmost attention from opposing defenses.
It will become easier for Love to score due to the increased talent now surrounding him. He will capitalize on more one-on-one matchups than he’s ever been met with before. While scoring volume will decrease, his overall shooting percentage should improve from the 45.7 percent number he posted last year. He will have more room to operate, he will have better matchups, and he won’t always been the opposition’s primary concern defensively. Love will certainly attempt less than the 18.5 shots per night he did last year, but his numbers should still reflect his career averages of 19 and 12 based on the open looks he’ll be now afforded.
Learning to best compete alongside James and Irving in David Blatt’s Princeton offense will require an adjustment. There will be a learning curve for the entire team. This might take weeks, months, a regular season or maybe just a training camp. It will be challenging for Love to go from being a franchise player depended on to carry a team to now being the second scoring option. But Love is an unselfish, team-first star capable of making these adjustments. He wouldn’t have agreed to be traded to Cleveland in the first place if not.
Chris Bosh suggested recently that Love will find it “extremely” tough adjusting to life as a member of LeBron’s Big Three. Like Love, Bosh was a franchise player and perennial All-Star before teaming with James and the Miami Heat. Bosh used his athleticism and extreme versatility to change the style of basketball he played alongside James for the betterment of the Heat. He doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves for what he did. There are only a handful of players in the League capable of reinventing themselves while sacrificing numbers and status to help win two titles. But Love won’t be asked to change who he is as a player in quite the same way Bosh was. His shot attempts will be down, sure, but he’ll still be playing the same brand of basketball he always did.
Love will succeed alongside James in Cleveland because he is a naturally dominant back-to-the basket player who is a consistent threat on the interior. He is a complement to James in this respect. Love can step out and shoot like a stretch 4, but he also rebounds like a traditional power forward. These dynamics will help make the Cavs Big Three both unique and special as their talents mesh. Love will remain the primary scoring option inside. He will open the perimeter as defenses collapse, and make everyone around him better because of that.
Statistical dominance of NBA box scores has become a consistent theme of Love’s basketball journey. Just don’t use the stat sheet exclusively as a measure of his overall value with the Cavs. Love’s talent, skills and presence could end up helping Cleveland secure its first professional championship in 50 years. If that happens, nobody will remember if he averaged 16, 19 or 26. They’ll simply add a line to his Hall of Fame resume that reads, “Kevin Love, NBA Champion.”
|#SLAMTop50 Players 2014|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’14-15—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.