The Kevin Love renaissance is a welcome development for the Cleveland Cavaliers. But while Love’s on-floor excellence contributes to winning, his relationships with the younger players, notably Cavs guard Darius Garland, underscores the incredible chemistry powering Cleveland’s success.
Love has handed the reins to Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen. However, rather than being bitter about his new role, his willingness to take a back seat and empower the young guys has set the tone for one of the NBA‘s most surprising teams.
Kevin Love has played his bench role to perfection for the Cavaliers while allowing Evan Mobley to grow and thrive
Kevin Love had only ever been a starter in his first seven seasons with the Cavaliers. But with Cleveland re-signing Allen and drafting Mobley No. 3 overall this past summer, the five-time All-Star saw a change on the horizon.
Love has not only embraced that change. He’s thrived.
The Cavs run high pick-and-roll with Garland and their two bigs. They’ll also set rubs for Garland to open up his playmaking abilities. It’s a perfect system for a floor-spacing big like Love, who is making the most of his usage.
Love is shooting 40.2% from beyond the arc on 6.2 attempts per contest. He can spot up in the corners or slip-screen his way to open threes. That opens things up for Mobley, who can operate in the paint and flash to the middle for catches or make plays rolling to the bucket.
Simultaneously, when the defense offers help for either Garland or Mobley, Love usually gets open looks. He also creates offensive opportunities with dribble-handoff sets. Indeed, Love still looks to get teammates involved, averaging 3.6 assists per 36 minutes.
Still, while Love’s import to the Cavs is evident on the floor, his connection with Garland most clearly defines the team’s collective attitude.
Love considers Darius Garland his “little brother”
Although Kevin Love has vented his frustrations and found his name thrown about in trade rumors in recent seasons, he’s owned up to past mistakes and taken to a mentorship role, especially with Darius Garland.
Love considers Garland his “little brother,” per the Akron Beacon Journal. The two have cultivated something special, and Love appears to have instilled a sense of joy and work ethic in Garland, making Cleveland’s point guard a worthy candidate for the 2022 NBA All-Star game.
The liveliness and strong foundational bonds have rubbed off on Love. The 14th-year veteran also told JJ Redick on the Old Man and the Three podcast that he hasn’t had this much fun playing basketball since the Cavaliers’ 2015-16 championship season.
“We were a very, very close team in ’15-’16. Here you can just feel that we have a special group of high character individuals and really good communicators. You see that from Evan, who just turned 20 years old, and all the way to [Rajon Rondo]. You don’t get that often. It’s really fun. Just want to bottle that up.”–Kevin Love, via the Akron Beacon Journal
Nicknames like “Old Man” and “Uncle Kevin” don’t seem to bother Love. Conversely, he’s looked at them as terms of endearment. That energizes both Love as well as his teammates.
With the Cavs’ young core excelling and Love providing leadership off the bench, is Cleveland ready to contend?
The Cavs have the tools to make a deep playoff run
Some fans might wonder whether the Love and the Cavaliers have enough on the current roster to remain squarely in the playoff picture. There’s actually an argument that Cleveland is one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.
The Cavs rank third in the league in defensive rating and fourth in net rating. They have tremendous size with Mobley and Allen in the frontcourt, and that size becomes all the more consequential in the playoffs. The ability to bring Love off the bench is a true luxury given his rebounding, shooting, and exceptional outlet passes.
Is there room for another scorer and secondary playmaker? Garland spearheads an offense that moves the ball well. Cleveland ranks eighth in the NBA in assists. Still, the court tends to shrink in the playoffs, and the Cavaliers could probably use another bucket-getter to alleviate some of the responsibilities on Garland. Maybe a potential Collin Sexton return solves that issue.
Regardless, Love and the Cavs excel both on and off the floor. That locker-room chemistry might serve as a crucial intangible come playoff time.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.