Often seen as the third wheel, the one that could be discarded if the cart started rocking, Kevin Love never quite hit his stride in his first two years with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Unable to replicate the form he showed in Minnesota with the Timberwolves and the definitive option C behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, many thought that the power forward would always stay as the odd man out.
However, the first third of the 2016/17 NBA season says different as Love has broken out as a real breakout option on any given night.
The first glaringly obvious difference is the points he’s putting up on every night he’s on the field. So far this season, the former UCLA man has averaged 22.3 points, up a huge six points per game compared to his averages in the first two seasons at The Q.
That added firepower in his game was emphatically emphasised in his first quarter outpouring against the Portland Trail Blazers. Love notched 34 points, the most ever in the opening portion of a basketball and only second to Klay Thompson’s 37 points in a quarter from last year.
He shot 11-from-14, outscoring the entire Blazers team and hit eight of his 10 three-point attempts. Six of those were off assists from James and all but one of the shots he hit were from assists either from James, Irving or Iman Shumpert.
And it wasn’t all from one spot either, with only two of the threes coming from almost an identical place on the field. Two were from the right baseline, one from the opposite side, two on either wing and one from the top of the key, while only one score came from in the paint.
Love was also a perfect four-for-four from the free throw line, just to add one last superlative to a superb performance. It displayed his ability to shoot from anywhere behind the three-point line, which is rare for a player of his size to hit with such consistency but also highlighted the fact in how Tyronn Lue is trying to get him more involved with the offence this season.
Like previously mentioned, all but one of his shots came off assists, which just tells you a little bit about the Cavaliers offensive movement in the new season. They are moving the ball more, doing that extra pass to find the open man more often than not, which is only to Love’s benefit.
The fact that it was James, who is an excellent passer in his own right, dishing the dimes only serves to highlight how this team aren’t afraid to pass the goalscoring burden onto another teammate. The King saw how hot Love was and when someone is in that kind of mood, keep feeding the basketball until they find a way to stop him.
The Blazers did to some degree afterwards but the damage was already done.
His field goal percentage is up to .468 even off more shots, his three-point percentage has lifted from .360 to .412 and he is posting a career-best FT percentage. All of those mean that Cleveland have another great scoring option in the prime of his career, which can only benefit an already superstar team.
However, it’s not just in scoring where Love has evolved with the Cavaliers, his entire game has benefitted from being more involved. He’s averaging 10.7 rebounds per game, the first time he’s averaged double figures since the 2012/13 season, which includes more offensive rebounds than his last two years and he’s also posting a career-high in steals with 1.1 per game.
Maybe it’s a bit of great coaching, Lue has this team playing possibly better basketball than their championship campaign last season and getting Love more involved seems like a no brainer. It makes such a difference to his game overall, with more confidence surging through his veins and that’s only a benefit to the Cavaliers.
It’ll also simmer down any silly trade talk that we’ve had over the last few years. Much like Chris Bosh in that superstar Miami Heat team, the third man is sometimes forgotten but can become someone extra they can rely on when the chips are down.
With another option when times get tough, especially come playoff time, the Cavs can make a real charge at the championship and they have evolved along with their rivals. If the star-power of the Golden State Warriors seems too much for James or Irving on any night, they now have one more trusted option in their arsenal.