For whatever reason, it is suddenly popular to hate on Kevin Love right now.
After the Cleveland Cavaliers came to a “handshake agreement” for the big man last week, parting ways with Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a future first-round draft pick, many analysts and fans hopped on board the “Why would they do that?” bandwagon.
Many claim that he plays no defense on his man. His rim protection is awful. He gets into rebounding position way to early instead of offering help or weak-side defense.
All of these are valid claims to a degree. Love has never averaged over a block a game during his six-year career. That is an absolutely shocking stat when you consider he has averaged 12.2 RPG during his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves. His high rebounding stats and low shot-blocking averages suggest that he does concentrate more on rebounding than providing defense at the rim.
What a lot of those critics are dismissing is that Love has been one of the most ruthless offensive juggernauts in the league during his short career. In three of the last four seasons, he has averaged over 20 PPG. In two of those seasons, he averaged over 26 PPG. He has shot 45 percent from the field and a more-than-respectable 36 percent clip from the 3-point line.
In his first two seasons, Love shot 10 percent and 33 percent beyond the arc respectively. During the 2010-11 season, he worked on really mastering this shot, which he ended up accomplishing. Love shot a phenomenal 41 percent from the outside during that year. In two of the last three seasons, he has knocked down over 37 percent of his 3-pointers.
Oh, and he is only 25 years old. In terms of the “plays no defense” slant against him, it seems many are completely disregarding that he can definitely develop that part of his game over time.
Granted, improving on defense will be very challenging for him given the hype surrounding him coming to Cleveland and being treated like a celebrity right from the start. Factor in that new head coach David Blatt is known for being an offensive mastermind, which will be great for Love’s own offense, but perhaps not for his concentration on his defense.
This upcoming season will say a lot about Love and his career trajectory. As it stands right now, outside of LeBron James, Cleveland does not have any shot-blockers in the post. In terms of how Love changes the Cavs, I think you can expect to see Cleveland play like the Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors teams of 10 years ago. In other words, there’ll be a lot of offense, but there will be many games where they might let up 110-120 points.
It will be difficult for Love to be focused on improving his defensive game during this offseason when all we are hearing about the Cavs is “Offense, offense, offense!” That is why this season is so important for not just the Cavs, but for Love too. He already knows how big of an offensive threat he is, and how much better he will be this year now that he is on the same team as the best player in the world.
If Love stays content with being a strictly offensive player, the Cavs will still be a really good team and he will still be viewed as a top 10-15 player in the NBA. What will thrust him into top-five discussion will be if he shows strides in protecting the rim and providing disruptive weak-side defense. If this happens, he will also make the Cavs a legitimate title contender.
The All-Time greats constantly added different aspects to their games over time. Love has already shown he can do this in terms of his offensive game. Will he be able to flip the switch on defense and help guide Cleveland to that elusive title? That is up to him.