Kevin Love got benched for the entire fourth quarter against Orlando last night, in a game the Cavs were losing. The Cavs went on to win this game by a comfortable margin after their small ball defensive alignment allowed just 12 point in the quarter. Yes, Kevin Love was benched because he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, play enough defense to contain the mighty Orlando Magic, and his team thrived in his absence.
Not gonna lie, it always feels good to be vindicated.
This is part of why I like basketball and there’s also a lesson in here about how basketball is sort of a more complex, harder to understand sport than baseball or football. Stats in basketball are almost entirely contextual, which is why these new fangled math geeks are mostly wasting their time with all of this modern analysis. I enjoy seeing the shooting stats from the particular spots on the floor and the 5 man unit plus/minus charts as much as the next guy but that’s about it. Point is, basketball ain’t played in a vacuum, so all of these PER and win shares, while not useless, aren’t really anything but numbers extracted from a specific circumstance. I mean, it’s great to want to emulate baseball and find the truth in analysis and study, but what if the subject you are analyzing just isn’t as receptive to the number crunching?
That’s the lesson here, and in Love’s case, I’ve been saying this for years. The guy isn’t a winner, and while that specific expression has always seemed rather ambiguous to some, (“what is a winner or a loser? what is the difference???”) allow me to explain.
He plays to score, to rebound, to pile up stats. Instead of contesting shots, he turns his back on the shooter and chases that rebound. He doesn’t show on screens. His rotations suck. Fuck, let’s just be honest here. He doesn’t really try on defense. Simply put, he’s not out there doing everything it takes to get the W, whether it means giving up his own good shot for a better one, taking a charge or taking pride in shutting down the guy he is guarding. Lest he not get all the credit he feels deserving of, Kevin Love isn’t gonna waste any opportunity on a basketball court to show you just how great he is. Unless, say, Chris Bosh, whose sacrifice and unselfishness led to derision and mockery during his tour of duty with the big three, but is also now being appreciated posthumously by the very same people who laughed at him.
Chris Bosh wanted to win, and so he went to Miami and won.
Kevin Love is a great scorer and rebounder. He can shoot his ass off from deep on a level that most guys his size cannot. He’s got about as well rounded an offensive game as you can possible have. Still, with all that said, his priorities are all out of whack, and so long as that is the case, he’s not going to be anything but an empty numbers guy on a team that consistently wins less than you think it should unless you understand the mechanics of what a player like Love does to a teams’ chances of winning. 25 points and 13 rebounds are nice and, more to the point, flashy. But have you ever noticed that opposing power forwards always seem to have career nights against Kevin Love. Sort of mitigates his value, don’t it? Tyson Chandler has the scouting report on K. Love.
Anyway, this post could be a lot longer, and if not for the fact that I’ve been saying this same things for years, it most certainly would. be that as it may, I still feel the need to tell you the moral of the story, because it’s worth remembering.
Say it with me now. Kevin Love is not a winning basketball player.
Whatever doubt I had this summer about his ability to get with the program in Cleveland has already been confirmed. Now in his seventh year in the league, this is who he is. Even Kyrie Irving still has a chance to shed the selfishness and the bad habits because he’s still young enough to do so. Hey, one look at John Wall’s maturation is enough evidence to suggest that Irving can do the same. Not Love, though. He is what he is.
Anyway, what’s happening to Cleveland is a lesson for all of us about how hard it is to build a winning basketball team, and it’s a lesson we’ll be repeatedly subjected to for as long as this game exists. We got this lesson a few years ago with a Laker team that featured four hall of famers and wen’t on to be a giant lemon, and yet we still all assumed this summer that the Cavs would be a juggernaut because talent! Alas, chemistry always has the final say, and the chemistry on this team is all wrong.
Kevin Love is a free agent, and if I were a betting man I’d say that almost every GM and fan will go scrambling to get him on their team because he’s such a bright, shining star. One of those teams might just be “lucky” enough to get him, and like the Cleveland and Minnesota fans before them, will be struggling to understand why such an impressive statistical force of nature isn’t actually helping their teams, you know, win any games. They will have failed to absorb this lesson that is being played out before us.
Repeat after me…