As much as we’d like to think otherwise, the current seven-game win streak the Cavs left Auburn Hills with Tuesday night does little to answer the question “who is this team?”
With this team, we know better than to render a judgment based on any stretch of games that doesn’t take place in early June.
What is finally coming into focus is who this team is not. In other words, roles are becoming more clearly defined, particularly the big three, as it appears the team has finally found a suitable personnel rotation.
Since his injury, LeBron is back to being LeBron. Kyrie has found his niche as a point guard who can shoot as well as dish. And, finally, the role Kevin Love is assuming is also crystallizing, albeit with a little less shine than originally thought.
Love’s points, rebounds and field goal attempts this season are at the lowest levels they’ve been since his first two seasons in the league.
Now it stood to reason that one Big Three member’s productivity would have to take a hit for the others to thrive.
“There is,” it was said multiple times, “only one ball to go around.”
In fact, Love acknowledged as much during the preseason media day in September.
“I’d be lying to myself and lying to everybody here if I was telling you I didn’t have to sacrifice,” he said. “I think it’s going to have to be an effort throughout the entire team to do what’s best for the Cleveland Cavaliers. And we don’t know what that is really yet.”
Love knew it was part of the job description.
But even if his scoring and rebounding totals are down, why is it that his field goal percentage (.433), assists-per-game average (2.2) and player efficiency rating (19.2) among the worst he has posted in his seven-season career?
First off, let’s face it, the notion of Kevin Love as an elite player—one who could lead a playoff-caliber team as its first option— is dead.
Gone the way of the dodo… Or perhaps, more accurately, a certain dinosaur.
In hindsight, a Chris Bosh comp would seem like more than an appropriate parallel. Just from a style standpoint, there’s almost no distinction: both are 6-foot-10 forwards who prefers to live 15-20 feet out on the wing instead of banging it out with the similarly-sized trees on the inside. Bosh was often criticized for a perceived lack of an inside game for someone his size, instead opting to take the bulk of his shots from the perimeter. Sound a bit familiar?
Don’t believe me?
Take a look at the before and after stats for Bosh and Love, both 26 when they became a part of the Big Three.
But in his first season with Miami…
It should come as no surprise that it is Love who has encountered the greatest struggles among the Big Three this season.
As we know, Bosh’s stats never recovered while playing with James. His points per game total never even approached 20 in the four years they were together. His highest scoring pace—18.7 per contest in the opening 2010-11 season—was a mere shadow of the 22.8 output he averaged in his final five seasons with Toronto.
In fact, his scoring average continued to dip to as low as 16.2 last season. Not surprisingly, Bosh carries a 21.2 clip this season as his shots have greatly increased.
Some cautionary words Bosh lent Love before the season that were likely to be construed as sour grapes have proven more prophetic than perhaps originally thought.
“It’s going to be very difficult for him,” Bosh said of Love playing with LeBron, according to Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report. “Even if I was in his corner and I was able to tell him what to expect and what to do, it still doesn’t make any difference. It’s extremely difficult and extremely frustrating. He’s going to have to deal with it.”
OK, there would be an adjustment- we knew that. But Bosh was also a little more pointed with his advice.
“Yeah, it’s a lot more difficult taking a step back, because you’re used to doing something a certain way and getting looks a certain way,” he said. “And then it’s like, well, no, for the benefit of the team, you have to get it here.
“So even if you do like the left block, the volume of the left block is going to be different. Now you have to make those moves count. So with me, it was like a chess game. I’m doing this move and thinking about the next move and trying to stay five moves ahead. You’re not getting it as much. If you got one or two a game, it’s a lot different.”
Bosh’s words ring with a certain trace of familiar frustration. The kind of frustration one can only be familiar with when he has experienced it.
Don’t think that Love isn’t experiencing a similar feeling of dissatisfaction — despite the team’s success. And if failing to reach double-digit points in two of his last three games (nine against Charlotte Friday and seven in Cleveland’s Tuesday win over Detroit) isn’t enough to get under Love’s skin, the deficiencies in his defensive game that are often exposed can’t be helping matters.
This isn’t to say Love hasn’t been a key contributor for the Cavs. Rather, that we might have to alter the unreasonably high expectations we had of Love when Cleveland acquired him for No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins, among others.
In an unfair criticism of Love, fans are quick to point out that Wiggins, a major talent, was unfairly squeezed out of his Cavs’ job when he was shipped to Minnesota. In an ironic sense, however, it’s Love who’s the odd man out.