Cleveland Cavaliers: Force-Feeding Kevin Love Is Not the Answer

Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA
(Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

The Cleveland Cavaliers would be wise to eventually move Kevin Love before next year’s trade deadline, but there’s more they need to figure out than just throwing their star big the ball and watching him work.

Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue is finally going to showcase more of what he’s made of next season. LeBron James is no longer on the roster, and Cleveland is going to be playing a different style out of necessity. Last month, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported the “Cavaliers hope to keep Kevin Love, regardless of LeBron James’ decision.” For the time being, Love slides in as the team’s first option next year. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.

Despite playing the second-lowest minutes per game of his career last season (per Basketball Reference), Love produced 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Love excelled as a stretch five, as he had a career-high true shooting rate (61.4 percent). He also had the highest PER (22.4) of his time in Cleveland. He’s a nice piece to have in a transitional time for the franchise. That’s just it for Lue and company, though. He’s a piece.

Letting the “Young Bull” run free

The Cavs drafted fiery point guard Collin Sexton with their eighth pick this year. Sexton showcased blazing speed and incredible athleticism in the Las Vegas Summer League while leading Cleveland to the semifinal round. They lost in double overtime to the Los Angeles Lakers, but Cleveland made a good decision. He had an impressive 19.6 points per game, to go with 3.4 assists, per NBA.com.

If Cleveland wants to develop him properly, they should play him alongside veteran combo guard George Hill often. Hill is not going to swallow up possessions. Playing J.R. Smith next to Sexton in the backcourt is a high-risk scenario that wouldn’t really help the rookie. Cleveland needs to do all it can to move the inefficient and costly Smith, anyhow.

Sexton will have his ups and downs. At times, he’ll have his foot too much on the gas, leading to turnovers and bad shots. He’s got a really bright future as a score-first lead guard in the NBA, though. Larry Nance Jr. pick-and-rolls could definitely highlight that, too. Him and Cedi Osman could take some valuable pick-and-roll pointers from Hill as well. That’s such a vital skill set for perimeter players in today’s league. Ideally, those chances should provide free throws and keep defenses honest. They won’t be having five eyes on one player on a number of possessions.

Utilizing man movement and screeners

As a team, Cleveland was effective when using rollers, as only two teams were more efficient, per Synergy. However, those rollers were not used very often as finishers. Only five NBA teams had a lower frequency of those possessions. For as polished as Love is, he’s never been a particularly great roll man, whereas Tristan Thompson and Nance present much more of a lob presence.

Nonetheless, the Cavaliers shouldn’t just stick Love in the corner like before, either. He has good passing touch in the mid-post and wing, and Kyle Korver plays a role in that as a great back cutter.

That sort of passing could be taught to Nance, who already is a nice passing big in his own right, but doesn’t nearly have the same precision as Love yet. In addition, Cleveland’s counter to a back-cut off a pindown Korver action could be involving weak-side cutters such as Osman and Rodney Hood catching their defenders napping, resulting in easy looks in settled offense from well-timed movement. From there, open three-point spot-ups and pull-ups could ensue for Hill and Sexton.

Showing the young big some love

Second-year big Ante Zizic should get some opportunities on the low block, too. He was really sharp in Summer League play (with 20.5 points on 63 percent shooting), and had 16.3 points per game with a 62.4 percent true shooting rate last season with the G-League affiliate Canton Charge. Despite having more of an old-school big man skill set, Zizic can provide some value in spurts (along with promising two-way signing Billy Preston). Plus, being around a great shooting big like Love should help his stroke some going forward.

The second-year big is still just 21, so one would have to think he’ll only get better. I would expect him to appear in much more than 32 NBA games in 2018-19.

They can’t simply worry about the short-term involving Love’s value increasing. Even though ESPN’s Brian Windhorst noted, “I think the Cavs would trade Kevin Love and Kyle Korver,” (per ESPN Cleveland), Cleveland must focus on its future. With Love’s injury history, it’s hard to fathom Love carrying a team again like he carried the Minnesota Timberwolves. If that’s the case for a considerable amount of next season, there’s a high possibility he would get injured again. Then his trade value would really dip.

Instead, the Cavs need to utilize Love in a variety of ways, and not by just having him hoist up 30 shots. That’s not realistic anymore, and Love can provide quality leadership to the Cavaliers for the rest of his time there by making the right plays within the structure of Cleveland’s offense.

The Cleveland Cavaliers need to hit the reset button, in due time. That’ll happen by pushing the tempo for the youngsters to get easier baskets, and playing unselfish basketball. Love fits that mindset, and as long as he shows up, he can still have plenty of value for contending teams. He’s a tremendous perimeter shooter and is a near double-digit rebounder.