CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – When it comes to criticism of the Cleveland Cavaliers, though it has been few and far between with a 12-game win streak, it usually falls on one of two people: forward Kevin Love or Head Coach Tyronn Lue.
A ton of the reason for the team’s recent success is the success of the Dwyane Wade-led bench unit, affectionately coined the ‘Flash Mob’ by Cavs broadcasters on Tuesday. Though while the starting unit struggled early with rotation changes and position shifts, Lue and Love have linked up on a diamond in the rough.
Whether it was a pre-planned move to match the Golden State Warriors, or a reaction to the team’s roster shift post-Kyrie Irving, Lue moving Love to the five-spot has unlocked something special in the four-time All-Star.
While it would be expected that the team’s former third option being elevated to their second would cause a boost in offensive numbers, Love’s renaissance is coming with a 26.4% usage rate. That is exactly the amount he was used last season with Irving.
With his new assignment, Love has been able to work inside-out, as he has long preferred going back to his Minnesota days. While a Timberwolf, Love’s 2-point attempts per 100 possessions bottomed out at 15.5 in 2011, with his 3-pointers hitting a ceiling of 8.9 in his final year.
In Cleveland, Love’s highest average of shots inside the arc per 100 entering the season was 12.7, coming last season. He also shot 10.3 triples per 100 last year, but has not shot less than 8 in Cleveland.
Love’s number of shots attempted from 3-point range has fallen from 44.9% to 38.8%, his first sub-40% rate since joining the Cavaliers.
Almost a third into the 2017-18 campaign, Love’s heightened efforts inside have produced the highest 2FG% of his career, a 52.9% mark. His inside-out game has also helped his deep efforts, posting a 38.3% mark from 3, his highest career number when taking more than 3 attempts per night.
The adjustment has come with its repercussions, though.
Love has never been known as a defensive lynchpin, though his struggles on that side of the all have been exaggerated at points. Regardless, the Cavaliers’ defense took a predictable step back while sliding a non-rim protector to the only position known for that trait.
It was well-known that the Cavaliers struggled to the worst defensive mark through the first full month of the NBA season. Even that has since taken a step forward, as the defending Eastern Conference Champions now sit 24th in the league defensively.
There is no wholly reliable measure of individual defense yet in the NBA, but all potential outlets have shown a step back for Love. His defensive box plus-minus has fallen from -0.9 to -1.7 while he has played 99% of his minutes at center compared to 13% a year ago. That being said, Love’s block rate (1.4%) and rebounding rate (20.1%) are both Cavalier-career highs.
Through their 12-game streak, it could be obviously said that Love has done enough defensively.
In that time, Love has faced off against some of the league’s best pivots in Dwight Howard (2x), DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond, Joel Embiid, Hassan Whiteside, and Marc Gasol. Howard was even held to eight points and five rebounds in the first matchup, while Drummond only notched eight points and eight boards. All others registered a double-double.