Love and basketball: shaky start for Cavs

We are now officially one full month into the NBA season, which means it is also time to talk about this year’s numerous stories and performances. Without a doubt, the most hyped team coming into this year was the Cleveland Cavaliers due to their summer acquisitions of LeBron James and Kevin Love. Currently, the Cavaliers have a win-loss record of 7-7 and are failing to live up to the expectations that were set during the offseason. The offense so far has shown some signs of brilliance, and their offensive efficiency rating is currently ninth in the league. The team is fifteenth in the league for defensive efficiency and their defensive performances up to this point have left something to be desired. Although Cleveland currently has many quality offensive players on the roster, they are seriously lacking a depth in players who are able to defend effectively. In fact, other the LeBron and Anderson Varejao (who has been prone to injury throughout his career), the Cavaliers lack any real defensive threats to opposing teams.

Of course, the season is still young and the Cavaliers still have ample time to figure things out before the playoff race begins in earnest. There is no doubt that it was unwise for analysts and gamblers to choose Cleveland as the front-runner for the NBA Finals since it takes time for a team to learn how to play together, and a great basketball offense cannot possibly compensate for a solid defense in the NBA playoffs. Even still, the hype exists, and it is expected that a pairing of two of the top ten players in the league in Kevin Love and LeBron James, along with young star point guard Kyrie Irving should produce a good team. Part of the issue rests with the fact that the three stars, who are all used to carrying their teams, have been forced to learn new offensive and defensive schemes under a rookie NBA head coach David Blatt.

Currently, there is a great deal of debate over how Kevin Love will find his role in Blatt’s system. Kevin Love has the option to opt out of the final year of his contract after this season and become a free-agent. Although it is unlikely, if the Cavaliers are not able to learn to play effectively together this season and the early struggles continue, there is reason to believe that Kevin Love would consider playing elsewhere. While playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Love made it clear that he would enjoy playing for a premier team in a major city such as the New York Knicks, or the Los Angeles Lakers. Although Cleveland is not usually considered a major market or a hotbed for stars, Love was enticed by the opportunity to team up with superstar LeBron James in the hopes of creating the next NBA super team. The question is: Will Kevin Love find it in him to sacrifice his statistical dominance and be patient enough to see the Cavaliers succeed, even if it takes the team several seasons to get it right?

A native of Calif., Kevin Love played in college for UCLA, where he led the one-seed Bruins to the 2008 Final Four before losing to University of Memphis. The Memphis Grizzlies took Kevin Love fifth in the 2008 NBA draft before trading him to the Minn. Timberwolves. On the Timberwolves, Love came into his own and developed into one the league’s premier power forwards. His ability to combine spectacular rebounding along with precision three-point shooting made him extremely difficult to guard and turned him into a unique offensive weapon. During him time in Minn., Love was the NBA leader in rebounding in 2011, made the All-NBA Second Team in 2012 and 2014, and played in three All-Star games.

For all of his offensive brilliance, Love was never able to lead Minnesota to the playoffs. Although his playmaking ability has always been great, the fact that he has never been able to harness his skills in meaningful games has diminished his reputation in the league. After several seasons of building frustration with the Timberwolves’ front office along with the failure of team General Manager David Kahn to sign love to a five-year max extension during the 2011-2012 season, the Kevin Love sweepstakes began. Last season, with one year remaining on his contract, Love expressed a desire to be traded, and multiple NBA teams including the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics made recruiting pitches to him. Of course, Love ended up being traded to Cleveland soon after LeBron announced that he would be returning to bring the city a title.

Unfortunately for Love and the Cavaliers, his performance up until this point has been short of expectations. The frustrations for Love culminated in a game against the Washington Wizards on Nov. 26, where Love only managed to score eight points, and felt that he was not being used in the offense enough. Jesus Gomez of SBNATION explains how the Cavaliers are not using Love in an effective manner offensively, “A much larger percentage of Love’s total points are coming from three-pointers (37.7 percent) than in the paint (24 percent). Obviously, his free throw attempts per game and offensive rebound percentage have lowered as a result. The Cavs have taken only one aspect of what made Love especial on the offensive end—his outside shot—and have emphasized it to the extreme. As a result, a guy who was an absolute offensive beast last season is producing like a role player” (SBNATION, “The Cavaliers need to rethink Kevin Love’s role” 11.22.14). Defensively things are not much better as Love is currently allowing opponents to make 67.2 percent of field goal attempts within six feet of the basket. Love’s teammates Anderson Varejao, and Tristan Thompson are being forced to mask his defensive liabilities, yet this strategy will not be effective in the long haul. If the Cavaliers plan on being successful this season they will need to figure out how to make use of Love, or else next year they might not get the chance.

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