Despite missing Kyrie Irving, Cleveland has been very successful early in the season.
After dropping the season opener to Chicago, Cleveland has rattled off six straight wins. LeBron James has managed to shrug off a horrendous shooting slump to start the year (under 20 percent from three and under 60 percent from the line) to post numbers near his production last year.
Perhaps the biggest reason the team has been able to succeed, despite missing one superstar, another player is reclaiming that status. Kevin Love has been able to shoulder some of the burden with Irving out, and it’s been a huge boost to the Cavaliers performance.
A quick glance at Love’s numbers would suggest he’s not playing any better than last year. After all, he too is in a bit of a shooting slump, as he’s shooting just 41.1 percent overall and 29.8 percent from deep. But his impact has been much more wide-reaching this season, as David Blatt has started to utilize him more properly.
There were times last year when the Cavaliers seemed to use Love in the same way the team used James Jones. He was just a glorified jump shooter. As an excellent floor spacer, this makes some sense, because it gave James more room to operate. But, it didn’t allow the Cavaliers to use Love to his full potential.
Check out this crucial basket on a spin back from Love against Indiana on Sunday.
Love was a floor spacer for much of the day, and Lavoy Allen got caught assuming he would be again. For all the talk of the James-Love feud, this play shows the type of chemistry the duo has displayed early in the season.
Instead of only playing on the perimeter, Love is being allowed to post up and cut/roll to the basket. Last year, Love shot just 3.4 shots per game within the restricted area, per NBA.com. This year, that number is up to 4.9. And, while his efficiency has been down inside as well, it’s made him and the team much harder to guard.
James and Love have been world-beats thus far, as the two are both in the top 10 in NBA.com’s net rating among players who notch at least 30 minutes per game. Love is tied for fourth at 16.0, and James is eighth at 14.8.
With Love on the floor, James has played like one of the best players in the league this year, as he has an eFG% of 53.5, per NBAwowy.com. When Love sits, however, James struggles. It’s early, and the sample size isn’t vast, but Cleveland just doesn’t have enough scoring options with Love off the floor. And with James struggling yo find his jump shot, teams have packed the lane and dared others to beat them.
James has an eFG% of just 43.9 when Love sits. The team struggles overall as well, as the offensive rating goes from 117.4 with Love on the floor to 95.1 with him on the bench and James in the game, per NBAwowy.com. James also has to spike is usage, as it goes from 33.1 with Love on the floor to 38.3 with Love on the bench.
What this means is James has to expand more energy to run a much less efficient offense with Love on the bench. When the two are on the floor together, Cleveland has been unstoppable. In the small amount of time James has played without Love, the team has struggled to generate any offense.
Obviously, the return of Irving will make things better for everyone, and James took a team to the Finals without Love last season. But, finally being utilized correctly and figuring out how to play with LeBron James has made Kevin Love more valuable to the Cavaliers than ever.