In one of David Blatt's final press conferences as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, he mentioned how his team needed to do a better job of helping to get Kevin Love more involved. That inability to mesh Love's fantastic abilities into the offensive game plan on a consistent basis had always been one of Blatt's biggest faults.
Little did he know that help would come in the form of his replacement.
New coach Tyronn Lue now has the opportunity to change this. He's been vocal about getting his star power forward more touches in the spots he's most comfortable, knowing full well that a productive Love can carry a team's offense.
With so much instability surrounding the Cavaliers, and as much as Lue can assist Love with his evolution among the Cavs' Big Three, this isn't just a one-way relationship.
Focal Point No More
We were supposed to see a revived Love this season, one who would soon become a much bigger piece to the Cavs' offensive puzzle. For a while, he was.
Over his first 24 games, he was putting up 17.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and connecting on 37.0 percent of his three-pointers. Life was good, right?
Enter Kyrie Irving, who, unlike Love, thrived alongside LeBron James in the trio's first year together. Since Irving returned from knee surgery on Dec. 20, Love's production has fallen off to the tune of 13.4 points on 39.5 percent shooting from the field and just 34.0 percent from deep.
Last season, Love's three-point attempt rate reached a career high at 41.2 percent of his total shots. Instead of reducing this amount and moving him in close to the basket like Blatt should have done (and promised to do), Love is now taking 43.9 percent of all shots from beyond the arc.
A career 36.3 percent marksman from deep, strictly deploying Love as a stretch 4 is the equivalent to only using the mini scissors on a Swiss army knife.
"A lot of people get caught up in I guess me shooting the ball. But one thing I know I can do is pass, especially in the half court and especially at those elbows," Love said, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. "It's going to take a little bit of time, but just getting back into that sort of rhythm and being able to find guys is going to be fun."
Getting him back to the elbows, in the post and in pick-and-pops is obviously ideal. While Love's shooting just 41.8 percent from the field this season, he's connecting on a cool 50.0 percent from the elbow, good for seventh in the NBA among qualified players.
Encouraging Early Results
In three games since the coaching change, Love is averaging 15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.7 steals in 32.3 minutes. This puts him about on par with his season scoring average of 15.7 points a night. So, is Lue's impact on Love really making a difference?
Actually, yes. While Love's still jacking up way too many three-pointers (6.7 attempts per game under Lue), his positioning on the floor inside the arc has dramatically improved. This increase in comfortable spots has led to an offensive resurgence, most notably his sparkling 70.0 percent success rate from within the arc.
|Stat||Elbow Touches||Elbow Passes||PTS%||2FG%|
Trading in weight for lean muscle gives Cleveland a wide array of options to use its star down low.
"He's a lot stronger this year so I think he's been more effective on the block," Tristan Thompson said earlier this season. "There were times last year that they [opponents] made it difficult for him. But that's just him growing as a player and understanding how to get better."
During the Cavs' most recent game, a 115-93 clobbering of the Phoenix Suns, Love enjoyed arguably his best outing of the season. In just over 27 minutes of court time, he racked up a team-high 21 points and 11 rebounds to go along with four assists, two steals and two blocks.
This isn't just about his individual improvement, of course. Despite his poor usage over the past year-and-a-half, Love has always made a positive impact when he's been on the floor with his rebounding, spacing, passing and ability to draw the double team. Cleveland is plus-9.6 points per 100 possessions with Love in the game this season.
Continuing to stay off the three-point line is going to be a work in progress, but it's clear Love has been better under Lue.
Lue's Need for Love
As the associate head coach at the time, Lue painfully watched the Warriors take the last three games of the NBA Finals from the Cavs, who were unable to muster any offense without Love and Irving. This year, full-strength Cleveland has been wiped off the floor by Golden State.
Love wasn't much of a factor offensively, but he still found ways to make positive contributions. In both contests, he led Cleveland in rebounding and registered a significantly higher plus/minus rating than even James. For the Cavs to have any chance at the Warriors in a potential Finals rematch, Lue has to maximize Love.
General manager David Griffin has remained intent on the team keeping the power forward, who signed a five-year max extension this past summer. While Love could fetch a considerable package via trade, Griffin instead is counting on Lue to follow through on what was the former's first blockbuster trade.
Contracts for head coaches mean little to the Cavs, who are still paying former head coach Mike Brown and now Blatt. If Cleveland can't win it all this season, there's no guarantee Lue will be back. His only job is to deliver a championship.
For Love, the idea of him being a superstar is quickly fading. He's now missed the All-Star team for a second straight year and could face a questionable future in Cleveland past this season should the Cavs fall short of their goal.
There's no five-year plan. No rebuild. No excuses not to win a title with the current roster, even given the success of teams out West. Having a productive Love greatly increases that chance.
At this point, we know what to expect from James and Irving. Love is the wild card. If Lue can continue to maximize his skill set, the Cavaliers may actually have a chance against Golden State in a seven-game series.
Lue and Love need each other. Cleveland needs them both.
Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @CavsGregBR.
All quotes not sourced have been obtained firsthand. Stats via Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.