With a sluggish start of 4-6 and no team respecting them on defense, the Cleveland Cavaliers are in an obvious rut. After trading away disgruntled point guard Kyrie Irving and reloading the team through the trade and free agency, many picked the Cavs to play like an All-Star Team with their roster. But, the only thing that looks like an All-Star team with this Cavs squad is the fact that they rank towards the bottom of the NBA in overall team defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Cavs just look anemic with their starting unit featuring LeBron James, Kevin Love, Dwyane Wade, JR Smith, Jose Calderon, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose, Tristan Thompson, and Jae Crowder and that is to be expected with the team having obvious early-on chemistry issues with so many new faces. With so many players in and out of the starting lineup, the biggest player on the roster in LeBron James has seen him playing his natural small forward spot, some power forward and even point guard when Derrick Rose was injured. Thankfully for Cleveland, he has been still the greatest of all time no matter where he is on the floor showcasing his offensive versatility in his fifteenth NBA season.
Another player from last year’s Cavs team that has seen a huge change in position is All-Star forward Kevin Love, who has not responded as well to the transition to now being the Cavs’ starting center. After putting up his best numbers with Cleveland last season of 19.0 points and 11.1 rebounds, Love has still looked great on the offensive side of the ball despite lower averages of 16.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Instead, Love has been exposed regularly on the defensive side of the ball throughout Cleveland’s abnormal start.
The reason, as mentioned before, for Love’s struggles are due to the fact that Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue has tinkered with the Cavaliers roster and seems determined to keep trying to pair Love and newly acquired forward Jae Crowder at the power forward and center positions. This has been part of the reason why Cleveland is near the bottom in the NBA in overall team defense because teams can simply isolate Love in the pick and roll and attack him at will. The other issue the team faces with Love playing center is the fact that when matched up against players like Enes Kanter, Kristaps Porzingis, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and even Dewayne Dedmon, they can regularly attack Love in post-up situations and make him pay for it. Having to defend a myriad of some of the best offensive bigs in the league has also taken a toll on Love’s stamina, as he is forced into excessive foul situations and makes him a liability on the offensive side of the ball.
The other problem for Love is the fact that he is getting no help defense from any of his teammates. Crowder, who is considered a defensive specialist has allowed multiple players to blow past him on defense and forcing Love to try and defend the rim, something he simply is not equipped to do. Even LeBron James and JR Smith, two players considered legitimate perimeter defenders, have also been lackadaisical on defense and that has exposed Love protecting the rim as well. With no help on defense from his teammates and sluggish offensive performances, Kevin Love has obviously been left frustrated ten games into the start of the Cavs regular season campaign.
This frustration came to a boiling point in another ugly Cavaliers loss against the then-one win Atlanta Hawks at home. Love picked up three quick fouls and resulted in this moment happening:
Despite Nike now having the reputation of easily torn jerseys, it is easy to see why Kevin Love is so frustrated. In the same game against Atlanta, he was again hit with his fourth foul early in the third quarter on another blown defensive assignment by one of his teammates. Soon after he was reported to have been sent to the Cleveland Clinic to receive treatment for an “unknown illness” which was probably just him being sick of Ty Lue throwing him to the wolves out there.
In all seriousness, he is out of position and outmatched at center while Tristan Thompson is rehabbing from a calf injury that will sideline him for the next few weeks and now Love will be forced to play center for Cleveland through at least Thanksgiving. But, even with Thompson, a natural power forward who is now earning his money by being an undersized-rebounding freak at center, the Cavs have not seen him for very long as their starting center and have looked to Love even more now to fill the void he has left and the experiment has failed miserably for the Cavs.
While on paper the pairing of Love and Crowder at the two big-men spots for Cleveland seems great, it just has not worked in practice and the experiment of dragging it out for extended periods needs to end. It is understandable Lue wants to roll out a lineup similar to the Golden State Warriors’ lineup of death but the Cavs lack the versatility to be able to employ that at the moment; at least not until Isaiah Thomas returns from his hip injury and the team still struggles with numerous chemistry issues.
Besides the body language and energy levels from Love while he has manned the center position, the numbers also back up that he is better suited for the Cavs at the power forward spot. While starting at the four with Thompson at center this season, Love has averaged 19.2 points and 11.8 rebounds compared to 11.2 points and 8.8 rebounds. That eight-point gap in scoring is a real difference maker for the Cavs and could have helped tilt some of their close losses in their favor.
For the time being while Thompson recovers, Lue should honestly throw rookie center Ante Zizic into the fire to allow Love to play his natural position and return Jae Crowder back to the bench to allow LeBron James to rest more. Zizic, in his limited play this season, has looked promising for Cleveland and his massive size can easily plug the hole at center on defense and provide rebounding and shot-blocking, something the Cavs have sorely missed. Besides, Crowder has not been touching the floor for Lue late into the fourth, who prefers to lean on his best friend Jeff Green in crunch-time situations.
Throughout his time with the Cavs, Kevin Love has been nothing short of a complete and total professional. He has been constantly mentioned in trade rumors, the odd-man out in the offensive scheme when sharing the floor with Irving and James, crucified by media and NBA fans alike and the entire time has kept his head down and continued to play his hardest for Cleveland. Love is the best power forward in the Eastern Conference and should be getting that treatment by a team that has no problem burning him by allowing him to return to his natural power forward position and leave the failed center experiment only for offensive blitzkriegs upon Isaiah Thomas’s return.