Nearly a full month has passed since LeBron James made the decision to leave Miami and return home to Cleveland.
Since we’re now aware that the Kevin Love trade will be finalized later this month, here are five ways Love will aide the Cavaliers in their quest to become the Eastern Conference’s elite team. Now if only he would take his strengths to Team USA to save them after Kevin Durant dropped out of the World Cup:
Rebounding / Outlets / Play creation
Kevin Love has averaged 12.2 rebounds for his career but everyone knows he carves out a lot of room for his team to grab rebounds. He averaged 18.9 rebounding chances per game for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2013-14, which was 2nd in the league.
The most lethal and exciting part of this whole trio is, without question, linked directly to the pinpoint accuracy of Love’s outlet passes once he tracks down said rebounds:
He will ignite fast break after fast break for Kyrie Irving and LeBron James… And I mean fast break. As the Cavaliers become more and more acquainted with themselves, expect this team to be consistently scoring baskets within 3-to-5 seconds after corralling a defensive rebound.
Love rebound… Outlet pass to Irving at half-court… Lob pass to James for the alley-oop.
Love board… 3/4 court outlet pass to James… Cross-court pass to Irving, who is spotting up for a wide open 3-pointer.
Cleveland should have a surplus of chances to score easy baskets with regularity.
He isn’t a point-forward, but Love’s high basketball IQ and playmaking skills (career-high 4.4 APG last season) will also be utilized in handoff situations in the post, pinch-post and on the perimeter. He’ll be asked to make reads within the offense and the combination of the tantalizing options he will have, along with his excellent decision making, will throw defenses off balance.
Love’s cerebral nature — he’s always thinking — will help the team to better take care of the basketball, limiting turnovers and moving the action from side to side quickly and efficiently at the offensive end.
Love was one of four players to play in 70+ regular season games and average 7+ points in catch and shoot opportunities (7.1 points per game, to be exact). The other three players were Klay Thompson (9.1), Dirk Nowitzki (8.5), and Kyle Korver (8.4). While the three other sharpshooters were guys on playoff teams, Kevin Love was enduring another non-playoff season in Minnesota.
Why is this a big deal? In Minny, Love got a large majority of his points in catch-and-shoot situations. As the chart to the left shows, he took 35.18% of his total shots from behind the 3-point arc last season.
In Cleveland, Love should get more high quality, in-rhythm looks, since he will be playing the two-man game with passing wizard LeBron James and the crafty, rapidly improving Irving.
After shooting 41.1% in catch-and-shoot situations in Minnesota, Love’s percentage should be on the rise.
More driving angles
To say James and Irving will be using straight line drives after driving off of a high and wide Kevin Love ball-screen is an understatement. Much like Chris Bosh’s ability to shoot with range for the Heat, Love’s shooting means defenses are going to have to make decisions about how they guard the James-Love, Irving-Love scenario.
Whether they attack immediately off of a high Love screen or use the initial high screen as a decoy for another foray to the rim (or for a 3-pointer), one thing is certain: When this trio plays together the defense had better be ready for fast and aggressive drives into the paint. Between them, James and Irving drove the paint 1,003 times last season, scoring 791 points while helping their respective teams to 16.8 PPG combined in such scenarios.
Lots of foul shots
When you add Love’s 8.4 attempts per contest last season, you’re up to 20.6 per game between the trio.
Let’s give you some context: Kyrie and D-Wade both shot the same amount of free throws per game this past season while Kevin Love shot an average of five more freebies per game than Chris Bosh (3.4 FTA)
End of clock options
Want a telling stat?
In clutch time, defined as the fourth quarter or overtime with less than 5:00 minutes left and the score within 5 points according to 82games.com, LeBron James had 17% of his baskets off of a teammate’s assist, while Kyrie Irving had a tad higher, 18% thanks to a set-up.
Kevin Love, meanwhile, had 64% of his crunch time baskets assisted.
What does this mean?
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving need less help getting easier shots at the end of the game.
Considering they were two of the top four leading scorers in crunch time, operating with the ball in their hands, they should make for a lethal duo not just at the end of games, but also as the shot clock is winding down in regular situations.
And just as every other point in this piece, when you add Love to the equation, the ingredients get more and more incendiary.
Jeremy Bauman is a shooting coach and aspiring front office professional who writes columns for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter @JB_For_3_.