SLAM Top 50: Kevin Love, no. 20

The definitive ranking of the NBA's best players for 2015-16.
by October 05, 2015
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I should have some deep mental telepathy with Kevin Love, who shares my birthday. (It’s September 7, thanks for asking. Favorite color: blue. Size: 11.5 XW.) Still, I find it exceedingly hard to put my finger on what to expect from Love in 2015.

Statistically, the sweet-shooting big man had a big drop last year, his first with the Cavs, going from 26.1 ppg to 16.7 and from 12.5 rpg to 9.7, the first time he had single-digit boards (even if just barely) since his rookie year of 2008-09.

But, of course, he was playing a whole new role, with a whole new cast and adapting from the being the man on bad teams to a supporting player on a championship contender. It’s never easy to go from Batman to Robin.

Love had an awkward start in Cleveland, seeing his plying time shrink and having his priorities questioned by LeBron—on Twitter. He pretty clearly did not enjoy playing third violin behind LBJ and Kyrie Irving.

But Love seemed to find his footing down the stretch, however, helping the team go 34-9 down the stretch to lock up the second seed in the East. And he was looking good in the Cavs’ first-round sweep of the Celtics before Kelly Olynk decided to go all UFC on him and rip his arm out of his socket.

It was a sad end to what should have been a great season for Love—his first Playoff appearance in his seven-year career. It was also a major disappointment for those of us who didn’t have a real horse in the race last season but just wanted to see the best possible ball we could. And, despite the impressive Loveless run to the Finals, the Cavs without Love were clearly a lesser edition.

Love terrified Cavs fans when he opted out of the final year of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent. A departure would have really put LeBron and the Cavs in a deep hole. They had, after all, given up an awful lot to get Love from the T-Wolves to help LeBron build a new Big Three.

Seeing Love essentially walk away after one awkward season ended in injury would have been devastating—especially while watching Andrew Wiggins blossom into a star. Boston was one suitor, and there he could have sought daily revenge on Olynyk. Instead, he re-upped with a five-year, $110 million deal and said he never really considered doing anything different.

I’m bullish on a rehabbed Love coming on strong this season. LeBron opened camp by talking up his teammate, noting that his presence will allow LBJ to rest more during the regular season.

Love says that one motivation for returning to Cleveland was sitting on the bench watching the run to the Finals. He wants in on the action. It’s not hard to envision how a sweet-shooting, strong-boarding big man could have helped the Cavs in the Finals, as everything collapsed onto LeBron’s shoulders.

Here’s betting that coaches Blatt and James have figured out more, better ways to incorporate Love and that the player himself now sees a road map to the Finals.

20_love_chart

SLAM Top 50 Players 2015
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Rajon Rondo Kings PG 14
49 Giannis Antetokounmpo Bucks SF 8
48 Rudy Gobert Jazz C 10
47 Al Jefferson Hornets C 9
46 DeMar DeRozan Raptors SG 7
45 Goran Dragic Heat PG 13
44 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 11
43 Jeff Teague Hawks PG 12
42 Bradley Beal Wizards SG 6
41 Joakim Noah Bulls C 8
40 Eric Bledsoe Suns PG 11
39 Tony Parker Spurs PG 10
38 Andrew Wiggins T-Wolves SF 7
37 Kyle Lowry Raptors PG 9
36 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 10
35 Gordon Hayward Jazz SF 6
34 Pau Gasol Bulls PF 9
33 Paul Millsap Hawks PF 8
32 Mike Conley Grizzlies PG 8
31 Andre Drummond Pistons C 7
30 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 7
29 Draymond Green Warriors PF 6
28 Kobe Bryant Lakers SG 5
27 Dwyane Wade Heat SG 4
26 DeAndre Jordan Clippers C 6
25 Tim Duncan Spurs C 5
24 Derrick Rose Bulls PG 7
23 Al Horford Hawks C 4
22 Paul George Pacers SF 5
21 Chris Bosh Heat PF 5
20 Kevin Love Cavs PF 4



Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.