First, let's get this out of the way. I was at Wednesday's game and it was amazing. It was probably the best professional game I've ever been to. It wasn't the best coached game, it wasn't the best played game, but it was the single most Hercu-fucking-lean effort from a player I've "WITNESSED!"
Second, we need to talk about Kevin.
After starting the first quarter with 10 points and four rebounds (maybe five, hard to track this stuff in-game), he proceeded to end the night 3 of 15 for a measly 10 points. This was on a night when LeBron James was absent and the team badly needed scoring. This should have been a perfect opportunity for Love to correct his slump and start performing at a high-level.
Instead, we got a 3 for 15 night. Ten points. No defense. So-so passing.
Shitty. Just, shitty.
The MozGod outproduced Love on the floor. He scored more, he rebounded better, he defended the rim as best he could (HOLY SHIT LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE IS GOOD AT BASKETBALL). Also, MozGod looks like every CYO player I ever played with but juiced up on whatever they gave Captain America. It's nuts.
Right....we were saying...
What the hell is eating Kevin?
Well, I think that there might always be the lingering question of if Love is injured right now. We know that he's experienced some back problems this year that have prevented him from playing extended minutes in a few games. But....
You have to think that the issue is mental. Love seems to do incredibly well when he can get a few strokes down to get his confidence up, but fails down the stretch when he misses consecutive shots. Luckily in this game, missing shots was not discouraging him from taking them (we needed him to at least remain guarded throughout the game), but they just weren't falling.
To go down a road of hypotheticals, was Love really good in Minnesota primarily because he got enough shots that he could get into a groove? Does he need bunnies to become a solid outside shooter? And the driving question here...
Can the Cavs afford to give a max contract to a guy that is that streaky of a shooter?
We need to go into some shooting splits to really do a fair comparison if this season is actually more drastic than others.
Love has a tendency to shoot well in the first quarters of games and follows that with a drastic drop-off in ensuing quarters. He's been much better the past two years than he was in '12-'13, but there is heavy padding with the dunks that he gets. The most frightening areas are the fact that he's overall not as great of a jump shooter as he's billed.
Love is actually at his best in the mid-range game, but remains a sturdy 3-point shooter. A big reason that he's been struggling in my opinion is that he's really not strong in the 3-10 foot range, which is where he's been having to play most of the year without a big directly under the hoop to draw the attention of the center.
Another issue is this... This team is not predicated on easy looks for bigs under the basket, but more so on kick-outs to the corners. With both Kyrie and LeBron being slashers, they draw the attention to the middle which frees up the corners. That means that Love must either be hitting outside shots or grabbing rebounds for put-backs. If the Cavs implement more of the pick-and-pop or pick-and-roll game with Love and either Kyrie or LeBron, I would think his scoring would rise drastically. Why that's been missing from the Cavs offense though is a mystery to me.
I think part of the reason that's been missing is obvious: Love can't crash well. Defenses know that on a Love-Irving or Love-James pick-and-roll, K-Love is almost certainly going to pop. The chances of him drawing defenders away from the paint and into the perimeter or vice-versa, are slim-to-none and he's certainly not going to skew defenses away from the primary ball handler. That means that defenses are increasingly able to load up on Irving and James and leave a solo defender, or nearby help defender, on Love---because they just need to put a hand in his face on the jumper.
To boot, Love's inability to hit wide-open 3s and long mid-rangers isn't helping his ability to warp a defense. If he can't hit shots, it becomes even less likely that a defense will design ways to stop him at the expense of allowing an Irving or James drive. So now Love is being gifted uncontested looks and he's still hurling bricks. He went 3 for 15 in the Ky-ridiculous Trail Blazers game. By the end of the game, Portland was barely guarding him.
And frankly, it's been hard to watch. This is a world-class player who we are hoping is either A.) Playing hurt or B.) So lost within his own head that he can't play anymore. But the kicker is that Occam's Razor suggests that option C is the most reasonable answer.
Option C.) Kevin Love is a good player who put up great numbers on a bad team.
That was a lot of adjectives. I'll break it down with more nouns, verbs and other sentence parts.
Love was the primary scorer on a cadre of mediocre or bad Minnesota Timberwolves teams. Ricky Rubio, the second best player on the team, is an amazing passer who is famously unable to shoot. Love's best running mate, until now, was a guy that specialized in setting other players up and not scoring. Basically, Spanish Rajon Rondo (minus the defensive ability). Love was able to put up world-class numbers on those teams.
Now, Love is sharing the floor with two of the most creative and explosive scorers in the game. Scorers who require the ball and are able to warp defensive schemes single-handedly. And while both Irving and James are excellent passers (particularly James), they also require the rock to further their own games. Teammates who occasionally need the ball are a new wrinkle for Love. And now he's putting up increasingly pedestrian numbers.
I agree that Love was putting up great numbers on a mediocre team, but the shooting percentages shouldn't change much, especially given that he was arguably the most heavily guarded player on the Timberwolves roster for the entirety of his career there. Now that he's getting more open shots, as a result of Kyrie and LBJ having a heavier court gravity, it seems like he should be playing better.
I personally believe that we're thoroughly at the B option right now, that he's mentally hampered. The thing that I'm unsure of is if he can snap out of it on this roster. Is the pressure of trying to win a championship too much for him? Is it getting in his head every night that the games are 'must wins' as opposed to 'I just need to score a ton of points so the finger doesn't get pointed at me, since we're probably going to lose anyways'? What will it take for him to shake off this funk?
And the most frightening question: If this really is a mental funk as a result of the pressure, does he have what it takes to compete at a high level when it comes to the playoffs?
Mo Williams answered this question in a heartbreaking fashion back in 2009 and 2010, but will Love be the same?
The bright side for Love, right now, is that the Cavaliers are winning and he plays with two of the best players in the world. He has a sort of human shield around him and there is very little noise (outside of Cleveland and the occasional Grantland mention) about how not good he's been. But his shooting percentage over this stretch has been....bad.
And he looks bad. This isn't a case of the numbers lying and the eyes being honest, or vice-versa. Both sides are telling the same story. Love, right now, stinks. He really stinks. He can't play defense, at all. He's rebounding at a solid but not spectacular rate. He's shooting too much for what he's producing. MozGod looked like a far more valuable player during the Trail Blazers game and that's not acceptable. Love is a glorified David Lee, circa Lee's New York Knicks days.
For those that wanted to credit his failures to LBJ, Love had a shot at redemption on Wednesday. It was just him and Kyrie and Love looked miserable. And don't say that it was Irving's fault. I was at the game. Love had 15 opportunities. He converted three of them. Three. He shot a literal 1 for 3, if you boil the fraction down.
I would like to chalk this up to a mental funk or even a lingering injury...and who knows, maybe it's one or both of those things....but I kind of doubt it. We're at the halfway point of the season now, even a little past it. We're heading into the All-Star Break. The team has played 47 games. Regardless of what's causing him to play bad, we need to start looking at the reality of this situation...Kevin Love is not helping this team. There are other players that could fill his role (soft stretch 4) without a max contract or the ensuing drama and maybe we need to start exploring those options.
Look, I know what you're going to say.
A few weeks ago we were wondering if the era of SUPER DOMINANT ANDROID LEBRON was over and now we're back to enjoying his reign. But this is different for a couple of reasons: 1.) James, even at this worst, was still a better player than Love and 2.) James has already bounced back. Love has not.
I just think it's time we start talking about Kevin.