Are the Cavaliers Actually Better Without Kevin Love?
In the NBA, results are everything.
So when your team goes out and beats an unbeatable juggernaut by 30 points without you (after getting drubbed by 48 points in two games with you), what does that mean?
That's something that has to be on the mind of the Cleveland Cavaliers' power forward, Kevin Love, after the Cavaliers clobbered the Golden State Warriors 120-90 in Game 3 of the NBA Finals last night.
Love missed the game because he was in concussion protocol after getting elbowed in the head during Game 2 by Harrison Barnes. After missing last year's Finals, Love was understandably upset to sit out yet again.
Kevin Love is "really frustrated" by the Cavs' insistence that he sits out tonight's Game 3, according to one source close to the situation.
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 8, 2016
What does this mean moving forward? Should the Cavaliers rest Love again? Limit his minutes? Play him as usual in Game 4 if he's cleared to return?
Let's dig deep and see what the numbers say.
Kevin Love Makes the Cavaliers Better
Let's get one thing straight: Kevin Love is a plus player for the Cavs.
With Love on the floor this season -- regular season and playoffs -- the Cavaliers own an Offensive Rating (points scored per 100 possessions) of 113.8, which would have ranked them second in the NBA as a standalone team behind Golden State's 114.5 in the regular season, for some context.
Their Defensive Rating of 104.9 with him yielded a Net Rating of 8.9 points over 5,514 possessions. Without him for 3,581 possessions, their Offensive Rating was 109.4, their Defensive Rating was 106.1, and their Net Rating was just 3.3.
That Net Rating with him would have ranked third in the NBA this regular season. Without him, they'd have ranked seventh.
What that means is that without Love on the floor, the Cavs were still a good team, but with him, they were a top-three squad.
Yes and no, as you can see for yourself.
The Cavaliers' other starters all see a boost in Usage Rate without Love on the floor (no surprise), but not all see better efficiency. James' Usage Rate skies from 30.1% to 36.9% without Love, but his Effective Field Goal Percentage drops from 56.2% to 52.8%. He maintains a similar points per possession mark (1.13 with Love and 1.12 without him), but his personal scoring isn't as easy to come by.
He does assist on a higher percentage of teammates' baskets (36.7% compared to 32.3%) when Love is on the bench, and his Rebounding Rate shoots from 10.7% with Love to 15.8% without him. Simply put, LeBron changes the way that he plays, but he doesn't necessarily, obviously mean he is better.
Kyrie Irving is a bit of a different story. Irving's Usage Rate soars, too, from 26.9% to 36.1%, and he sees an efficiency boost: a 51.1% Effective Field Goal Percentage without Love and a 49.8% mark with him.
Irving also snares more rebounds (6.5% compared to 4.5%) and assists on a higher rate of teammate field goals (28.1% compared to 23.5%). Again, Irving takes on a different role, and this leads to a jump in Offensive Rating from 109 to 111.
What's perhaps more telling of Love's impact is how things change for the non-ball dominant players. We know James and Irving can still score without Love, but J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson see some ups-and-downs, as well.
Smith's Usage Rate jumps up (19.1% from 16.3%), but his Effective Field Goal Percentage declines (52.9% from 55.8%), similar to James' dip in efficiency. However, like Irving, his rebound (6.2% from 5.1%) and assist (10.5% from 6.8%) marks improve with his increased workload.
And Thompson, a Game 3 savior with his 26.4% Offensive Rebounding Rate, understandably grabs a higher rate of rebounds overall (19.6% from 17.4%), but his Offensive Rebounding actually suffers without Love, dropping from 14.6% with Love to 13.4% without him.
Interestingly, his efficiency skyrockets based on Effective Field Goal Percentage (60.7% from 53.6%) and Offensive Rating (124 from 109), but the team's marks with and without Love still favor having Love on the floor.
Is Love a Good Fit Against the Warriors?
That's really the million-dollar question. If you make a good team great against the rest of the league but can't defeat that final boss, what does that really mean?
Well, when it comes to such a small sample -- he missed last year's Finals and this is just his second year with the Cavaliers -- it's hard to say with gusto.
Last season, in two regular season games during 2014-15, Love owned an Offensive Rating of 129 against the Warriors and a Defensive Rating of 109. He shot 59.1% and 65.0% (Effective Field Goal Percentages) in those contests. In two regular season games this year? He shot 31.3% and 30.0% by Effective Field Goal Percentage, ultimately yielding an Offensive Rating of 79 and a Defensive Rating of 105.
Love has posted a Net Rating of -19.6 during this year's Finals, but the whole Cavaliers team got tanked in Games 1 and 2, as was the case in this year's regular season games.
Saying Love is a problem or the reason why the Cavaliers lost is really just a convenience argument, based on the data, as the whole team has struggled with the Warriors lately. It also doesn't hurt that the Warriors allowed an Offensive Rebounding Rate of 41.7% in Game 3 and shot a 48.0% Effective Field Goal Percentage while the Cavs maintained a 59.3% rate.
After their Game 3 win, the Cavaliers own a 18.85% chance to win the NBA Finals, and getting a healthy Kevin Love should boost those chances rather than inhibit them.