The reinterpretation of Kevin Love

Father time, they say, is undefeated. But at least you can negotiate with him.

In the final stages of his career, Kevin Love, the big man of the Cleveland Cavaliers, holds back the inevitable. As the gray hair and the team change around him, he remains the mainstay, the lone holdover from the championship era, the bridge to the past. And he stays very good too.

With the explosive athleticism of his youth well in advance of the 2015/16 title-winning season, Love has offered a down-to-earth game in the second half of his career, which has helped him age particularly gracefully. He’s not a passenger on the resurgent Cavaliers. Instead, he’s the vital sixth man in a team otherwise lacking in contributions from his bench.

At the age of 34 and in his fifteenth NBA season, Love is averaging 10.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists in just 20.7 minutes per game, and while the 41.8% baseline shooting rate is a burly Not flattering the 6 foot 8 tall man on the surface, it is overwhelmed by 40.4% three point shooting and the resulting .613 true shooting percentage. That number is the smallest possible fraction behind his career high of 0.614% set in 2017-18 and well above the league-wide average of 0.574%.

Though both the mobility to hunt down those who land outside of its territory and the athleticism to somehow fight your way over and through traffic to get them have slowly evaporated, the recovering instincts that Love once made the league led in this category, still there. As he’s aged and almost exclusively turned away from the basket on offense, the offensive rebound rate has inevitably dropped to almost zero, but the 35.5% defensive rebound rate is on track to match any of his past performances to surpass plays in every full season of his career. Not only does Love end possession with the shot, but he wins it from the glass and facilitates it with his rock-solid passing game.

It’s true that without rim guards, Love can and does focus on rebound. But it’s not fair What Kevin Love does, however how he does it, and who with.

Alongside Jarrett Allen, who doesn’t shoot from the outside, and Evan Mobley, who only occasionally shoots from the outside, the Cavaliers need wide ground clearance if they’re to play as much as a foursome. Love – alongside the ever-evolving contributions of third-year forward Dean Wade – makes sure of that, and though he’s long been famous for his outlet passing (something the Cavaliers, who play at the second slowest pace in the league, may be making more use of might), his entry to these two is just as good.

Similarly, the length, athleticism, and positioning of these two can cover love on the other end. The duo try to chase the ball and smack it into the parking lot at every opportunity, and the way they are drawn to the basket at both ends fits perfectly with the love game that’s favored at this stage in his career do not want. Love is the counterbalance, the limitation to the inner, the old to the young, the measured to the exuberant, the learned to the learning, the wise to the dynamic. And the fact that Mobley and Allen are both extremely good players makes the partnerships work.

The above praise has largely sidestepped the issue of defending love. However, it is not something that can be ignored in this way. Aside from the defensive rebound and occasional kudos for his footwork, Love is a non-factor on this end in more ways than one and is accordingly targeted by opponents. It’s not that he doesn’t try; instead, he fails.

Because it doesn’t offer defensive verticality, length, deflection, close-out speed, or lateral movement, there’s no favorable match for Love on this ending that the Cavaliers must try to hide as much as opponents seek to find him. Cavaliers lineups with Love in maintain a healthy offensive balance, but it comes at the expense of defense that becomes so much more difficult for everyone else. This is not for nothing and is not so easy to record statistically.

Winter hardiness also remains a problem. Love appeared in 74 games last season, but this was his first in more than 60 since the 2015-16 titular season, and he only managed 47 games combined in 2018-19 and 2020-21. As reliable as Love is on the pitch – you know both what you are and what you don’t get from him – his presence on the Thing is less consistent.

Still, it was quite a reputation change for Love, a man who 18 months ago was thought to be misrepresenting everything with the Cavs. At this point, Love still had more than two seasons to complete the oversized extension he signed in 2018, but only managed 25 games as his Cavaliers team posted a 22-50 record with the league’s worst offense . Torn by the pandemic, misshapen in its construction, and not going anywhere anytime soon, love has been more of a hangover than a bridge.

In contrast, he now represents all that is right. The role of the attacking-minded veteran off the bench on a team with great rim protection is perfect for him, and in a fun Cavaliers roster with instant success and long-term advantage, Love plays an important role. Where not long ago he was defined by his absence, he is now remarkable. And where it was once an expensive and unnecessary burden, it is now needed.

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