The Cleveland Cavaliers are only three games into the new season, but star power forward Kevin Love is struggling, and that is giving fans some cause for concern. He is averaging 20.7 points, 14.3 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game, which are all excellent numbers. However, he is shooting an abysmal 30% from the field and 26% from beyond the arc. There are a few contributing factors, but the reality is that the answer lies in a mix of causes.
Love’s worst shooting season of his career came in 2012-2013, when he shot 35% and 22% from deep. However, Love played in only 18 games this season due to a hand injury. Love returned from his initial injury significantly ahead of schedule, and admitted that he came back too early, as he didn’t have normal strength in his shooting hand.
This is why he shot so poorly, far below his career averages. Love ended up breaking the same hand a second time, which forced him to miss the remainder of the season.
Love’s worst full year shooting-wise was 2015-2016, his second season in Cleveland, when he shot 42% and 36% from three-point range. Love was recovering from a dislocated shoulder he suffered in the playoffs, but that should not have affected him for the entire year.
Things were looking up for Love as the 2018-2019 season approached. LeBron James left for Los Angeles, leaving Love as the undisputed first option of a team once again. Last time that happened, he averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 4.4 assists for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2013-2014. Love was also coming off the second-most efficient season of his career, as he shot 46% and 42% from deep in 2017-2018.
There are three factors contributing to Love’s subpar start to this season. The first is rust. Love played in the first preseason game back on October 2nd, and didn’t play again until Cleveland’s season opener on the 17th. Perhaps moreso than any other sport besides baseball, basketball players need time to get into a rhythm. The preseason allows players to get their shot down and figure out how their offseason work translates to an in-game situation. Love wasn’t able to take advantage of that opportunity, and now must use the beginning of the regular season to get up to speed.
The second cause is simply an increase in volume. Usually, as a player takes more shots, his shooting percentage will decrease, because there are now more shots to be missed. This is especially true if the player shoots under 50%, as most players do. Love is attempting 18.7 field goals, 6.3 of which are three-pointers, as well as well as 9.3 free throws. That’s a total of 53.4 possible points, and Love is converting just 20.7 of them.
However, this doesn’t completely explain Love’s lack of efficiency. In 2011-2012, Love shot the ball 19.3 times per game, and nailed 49% of those attempts. He’s done this before, but for some reason, he’s shooting much worse now.
The third factor goes hand in hand with the second; an increase in attention. Love is the only player on the Cavaliers who requires significant defensive attention at this point. Cedi Osman has looked good so far, but he has 15 career starts. George Hill and Rodney Hood don’t strike fear into opposing teams. Collin Sexton has the potential to be a very good player, but he is an extremely raw 19-year-old.
It’s very difficult to envision the Cavs winning a game where Love struggles, and other teams know this. If Love can be slowed down, Cleveland is probably going to lose. That theory has proven sound during the first three games. Still, this doesn’t account for Love’s struggles either, as he was the indisputable primary option in Minnesota where he was a top-five player. What has changed since then?
There is the possibility that Love is not the same player that he was in Minnesota, He is five years older and about 30 lbs lighter. He also had a significantly worse haircut. If that’s the case, and this is how Love is going to perform moving forward, then the Cavaliers made a huge mistake giving him a generous extension.
However, three games into the season, it’s far too early to make a statement like that. Plenty of NBA players get off to slow starts or enter slumps. A larger sample size is needed to make a judgement on Love. This team is also still getting to know each other and adjusting to the new system that head coach Tyronn Lue is implementing. That’s going to take time, and a final decision on the team can’t be made until that happens. If we’re still having this conversation a month from now, then we can begin to worry.