It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.
Listen to me Kevin. It’s not your fault.
Kevin Love is a limited big. He doesn’t have the length or the instincts to be a rim protector or an above-average defender in any real sense. Teams will focus their attack on him, attempting to isolate him and feast on his weaknesses while simultaneously pulling him out of position and wearing him down.
His offensive game at the best of times consists of a combination of low-post magic and strong shooting from the perimeter. Love is one of the best pick and pop bigs in the league, and his perimeter and post games can complement one another beautifully. Love is able to open space for himself to face up and drive from the perimeter based on his deadly shooting when he starts on the move. It’s not the speed that’s important, which is good, because outrunning every defender isn’t an option.
His combination of power and skill is the real key. Coming off a pick, the option for his defender to hang back toward the rim doesn’t exist; that’s just conceding points. Instead, defending bigs have to close out, and quickly, allowing Love to put them on the wrong foot and get a path to the lane. From there his size, post skill, and superior passing make him a nightmare for defenses. The dream in Minnesota was always for these skills to combine with Ricky Rubio’s slick passing to give the team an unstoppable pick and pop attack. That didn’t consistently happen for a number of reasons, but of all the decisions made by the T’wolves over the past several years, that’s one of the few that made any sense.
The Cavs have nearly eliminated that part of his game, instead placing him on the weakside perimeter as Kyrie Irving and LeBron James are operating with the ball. Spot ups have accounted for nearly a quarter of Love’s chances according to stats.nba.com, and the trickle down effect on his game is measurable.
Love is averaging by far the fewest offensive rebounds of his career on account of being so far from the rim when a shot goes up. He’s also shooting just 43% from the field, a turn of events that can be directly traced to the drop off in the number of shots he is attempting at the rim.
Posting him up gives some similar advantages to the pick and pop, mostly thanks to the double teams he can draw, but at least the Cavs seem interested in exploring that possibility, with another quarter of his possessions being counted as post up opportunities. Nonetheless, positioning Love as a safety valve for long stretches is a waste of his enormous talents.
A team could absolutely build an elite offense around Love, and could easily support him on defense. Such a team would need solid rim protection at center, a good pick and pop guard or two, and sound shooting and defense on the wings. That’s basically the strategy every team is gearing themselves toward anyway.
The best current real-world example of such a team is probably the Grizzlies. Replace Zach Randolph with Love and Memphis would be as good, if not better, than they are now. Randolph benefits from having Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Courtney Lee, and Marc Gasol around him. He too is limited (even more so than Love in some ways), but the team is set up to limit his weaknesses and highlight his strengths.
There are certain guys – the aforementioned LeBron and younger Gasol are probably the best examples in the game – who would fit in with any team. You do not need to worry about how LeBron’s game will suffer under various circumstances; it won’t. These players are all at least average at every relevant skill, and as a result there’s no weakness to hide, no quirks that need to be indulged to maximize their abilities.
These are complete players, and they are fantastic to have on your team, but there simply aren’t enough of them to go around. Love’s game may not totally mesh with Cleveland at the moment, but it may be in their best interests to involve him more directly in ways that prop up his particular approach to the game. LeBron will be fine, but there’s so much more to access from this inside-out offensive machine than what the Cavs are currently getting.
Love shouldn’t be blamed for his dropoff in production after spending a season in a system that basically only used him as a floor-spacer for long stretches. We’ve all been deprived of seeing a fully-utilized Love doing all of the crazy things that he can do. The 80 foot outlet passes are still there, and whether he seeks out another team that can support him better or Cleveland learns to integrate him more fully, hopefully the rest of his immense skills can be put on display again in the near future.