Not exactly breaking news, but Kevin Love is good at basketball. Moreover, the version of Love that plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers is starting to more closely resemble the guy who put together some insane box-scores in Minnesota.
No one likes to talk about those things, though. Instead, we try to find flaws within every player that dons a Cavaliers uniform. The oddness of it knows no bounds, as even LeBron James has to suffer nightly critiques from pundits who put far too much stock into a relatively trivial game in November.
Then again, it somewhat makes sense. Outside of the Warriors seeming like Dolph Lundgren pre-Rocky fight (spoiler: he killed a former heavyweight champ with his fists!), they remain the NBA’s most polarizing team because it features a generational superstar like James.
Regardless, despite the fact that we continue to ignore that Matthew Dellavedova gets huge minutes on a title favorite (he has played well this season, for what that’s worth), many simply expect Cleveland to get to at least the Eastern Conference Finals simply because of the basketball mastodon that is LeBron James.
Part of that is fair. Hell, history has shown us that it is even true. James has dragged lesser Cleveland teams deep into the playoffs. This is not what is at issue here. While it is funny to joke about LeBron having to play with whatever is left of Mo Williams, this isn’t a Cleveland team that features LeBron James running with Larry Hughes as his number two.
What we are doing, however, is ignoring that he has a legitimate running mate even with Kyrie Irving being sidelined with an injury. Yup, last year’s scapegoat and this season’s heavy favorite to win the hair jokes award, Kevin Love is playing swell.
Love became the butt-end of many jokes last season. Whether that’s because it legitimately seemed like there were issues between he and James or because the huge drop in production made him for an easy scapegoat, isn’t all that important. It is what it was because it already happened — and it currently holds little relevance to this year’s team.
That’s because Kevin Love has truly been playing well this season. Not that he was horrific last year, but there were moments that left many pondering if he knew what his role was on the team. This season is different, as it looks like Love has found solid footing in Cleveland.
Everything is up. His points per is up to 18.3, compared to last season’s 16.4. So, too, is his rebounding, as he went from 9.7 per game last year to 12.0 this season. And Love’s PER has jumped from 18.8 to 20.3.
That can be attributed to many things; the new players on the roster, key guys missing time with injury, as well as a slew of other possible causing factors. The reality of the situation seems much simpler, though. Much like The Big 3 in Miami needed a year to adjust to each other, the same likely applies here. Even as productive as Love and James have been during their careers, they needed a season to get fully adjusted to sharing the workload.
The sharing of the workload is the biggest aspect of the entire thing, too. James is no longer a young pup. With Golden State seemingly having a stranglehold on the world of professional basketball, coupled with James’ likely being closer to being the worst version of himself than the best, he is going to need as much help during a lengthy 82 game regular season as possible.
Outside other flaws this team has and obvious injury concerns moving forward, it does not seem likely that Kevin Love being productive and playing high-level basketball movement is a thing that will stop anytime soon. It could be argued that, when Kyrie Irving comes back, things will be different and Love’s role within the team will change yet again, however.
As James’ No. 2—even if he’s keeping the seat warm until Irving comes back—Love is excelling, and that could do wonders for Cleveland come playoff time. The three key players for the Cavaliers may finally learn to fully trust one another and not make comments that result in many pondering if they are rifts within the franchise.
For what it is worth currently, as Kevin Love continues to play extremely well, nothing but good things have been whispered by LeBron about his new best buddy. It is not as fun as dysfunction in the ranks, so we mill mostly ignore that, though.
No matter. Not really, at least. Kevin Love being productive now is huge, but it is only good for Cleveland in the moment. The Cavaliers’ season won’t be judged on how well they do in the regular season. As per NBA fan and hyperbolic talking-head rules, unless LeBron James is put in a position to wear another championship ring, everything will be considered a failure.
Blame will be passed to many. James will certainly carry the brunt of the backlash, but as last season made it abundantly clear; the public has no issue turning against a guy they loved for his productivity with a bad team because he spent the better part of a season trying to find his footing at his new home.
Without that excuse being afforded to Kevin Love this season, he best keep up his so-far productive ways or we can all expect the world to declare him massively overrated — if they haven’t already.