LeBron James left Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat behind because he wanted to play with younger talent, save northeast Ohio and right the wrong of his departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010—in some order.
Playing alongside Kevin Love, a big man with skills that exceed Bosh's in a number of key areas, would be a pretty nice bonus as well.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports confirmed the whispers that had been floating around since before James even officially rejoined the Cavs, reporting Love would soon be in Cleveland as part of a blockbuster deal sending Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a first-rounder to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
It's easy to think of Love and Bosh as similar players, as both spread the floor and fit the mold of next-generation stretch bigs. But those similarities exist only on the surface. A deeper look reveals just how much more Love brings as a sidekick to LBJ.
Bosh made a leap as a perimeter threat last year, firing off a career-high 218 triples and hitting 74. Prior to last season, Bosh's career high in attempts was 74. In hitting 33.9 percent of those threes, Bosh proved he was evolving into exactly the kind of perimeter threat teams covet in the frontcourt.
Love, though, is already the paragon of that player type.
He pumped in 190 three-point shots on a whopping 505 attempts last season, good for an accuracy rate of 37.6 percent. Opposing defenses worry about Bosh's outside shot; Love's jumper is an anxiety-inducer of an entirely different sort.
Not only that, but Bosh's improved accuracy was also just as much a result of his own hard work as it was the wide-open looks he enjoyed while playing for one of the league's best passing teams. Love, on the other hand, attempted far more shots in far worse offensive circumstances. He drew the attention of entire defensive game plans, whereas Bosh was more of an afterthought.
Despite all of that, Love was more efficient. Imagine what he could do with James attracting attention.
Love won't just mooch off James next year. He'll also return the favor in a way Bosh never did: by moving the ball.
"I don't even really care about the 26 [points] and 12 [rebounds], I care about his basketball IQ. His basketball IQ is very, very high," James said of Love, per Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein of ESPN.com.
Don't be mistaken: Bosh was never a poor passer with the Heat. And his assist percentage cracked double digits in his final five seasons with the Toronto Raptors, per Basketball-Reference. As was the case with outside shooting, though, Love is simply more skilled than Bosh.
That's because the Heat big man isn't the only player whose game has evolved. Love, who spent his first five seasons putting up passing numbers very much in line with Bosh's career marks, made enormous strides as a facilitator last year.
In racking up an assist percentage of 21.4 percent, per Basketball-Reference, Love nearly doubled his previous career high. No surprise, then, that he racked up 4.4 dimes per game in 2013-14. While it's true the Heat's offensive system rarely called for Bosh to make a play, it's hard to argue he could have equaled Love's distribution output under any circumstances.
When you also note that Bosh's and Love's career turnover percentage is nearly identical, Love's value as a passer stands out all the more starkly.
And Then There's the Rebounding
Shooting and passing aside, Love has crushed Bosh's production on the glass throughout his career. Bosh took some heat last season as his rebound average stayed below seven per game for the second straight season, but it's probably not fair to say he's an outright poor rebounder.
Miami moved Bosh away from the bucket with increasing frequency over the past four years, effectively eliminating many of his chances at easy boards. When looking to defend Bosh's rebounding decline, that has always been the first piece of evidence.
Love, though, proves perimeter bigs can still do work on the glass. He averaged 12.5 pulls per contest last season. And though an increasing percentage of those rebounds came on the defensive end, we know Love can be a beast on the offensive boards when he's in position.
For proof, we need only look at his first two years in the league—seasons in which he spent almost all of his time in the lane. He led the NBA in offensive rebound percentage in both of those years, per Basketball-Reference.
The caveat, of course, is that Love's refusal to defend often leaves him in excellent rebounding position. He's not alone; David Lee has been padding his rebound totals the same way for years. Bosh is a far more active and committed team defender than Love has ever been, and his rebound chances suffer because he doesn't give up easy buckets in hopes of snaring a miss.
That's not to say all of Love's boards are cheapies. He grabbed 4.9 contested rebounds per contest last year, third in the league according to SportVU data provided to NBA.com. Nonetheless, not all of the differences between Love and Bosh weigh in favor of the former.
James will likely find himself missing his former running mate on defense.
Tyson Chandler, NBA scout extraordinaire, has the book on Love:
That's a small price to pay for everything else Love brings, though.
A New Toy
On paper, and by virtually any comprehensive statistical measure (PER and win shares, in particular), Love is a better player than Bosh. The fact that Love, 25, is also four-and-a-half years younger can't be ignored either. What remains to be seen is whether James' new teammate can adapt as effectively as his old one did.
That'll be a tough act to follow, as Bosh completely altered his game to fit within a unique Heat system that was built to maximize James' strengths. We don't know if Love can be as effective when he doesn't get the sheer volume of looks a No. 1 option typically enjoys. He's been effective in that role, but maybe playing second fiddle will help both him and the Cavs get the most out of their partnership.
Ultimately, there's a lot Love can give James that Bosh couldn't. But there's also something James will give Love: a chance to prove his gaudy stats actually represent a skill set that leads to wins.
If Love makes the most of that opportunity, he and Bosh, for all their differences, may eventually end up sharing something in common: a championship trophy earned as James' sidekick.
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