The NBA: How Much Do You (K-)Love the Trade?

Kevin Love and Andrew Wiggins swapped jerseys on August 23, 2014
(Image by: J3rs3ySwaps)

The trade between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves (and to a lesser extent, the Philadelphia 76ers) was first reported in the middle of July. Finally, after more than a month of rumors and speculations, the trade involving Kevin Love and Andrew Wiggins (plus a few other players and draft picks) has been completed and finalized. Kevin Love got what he wanted which was to be traded to a contender while LeBron James received a sweet shooting sidekick that can grab rebounds like there's no tomorrow.

Now what? Can this trade work for the Cavs? 

This trade will work for the Cavs, no matter what. Why? Simply because LeBron James decided to come back and play for his home state of Ohio. Most NBA players want to play for a contender and an even bigger number wants to play with the best player in the world who is also very unselfish and team-oriented. LBJ is still in his prime and at the peak of his powers. He is an excellent defender and superb play-maker. He can make ANY teammate look and play better. As an aside, who would NOT want to play with LBJ? Hmmm... probably just a handful of players like Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant. Who else?

Anyway, back to the topic... LeBron James also "worked" as part-time general manager of Cleveland with his recruitment of free agents (Miller, Jones, Marion) while his best work was to indirectly push for the trade involving Love and Wiggins. Remember his letter to Sports Illustrated where he did not mention Wiggins or Anthony Bennett as part of the Cavs? If the Cavs did not succeed in trading for K-Love, LBJ would definitely welcome Wiggins and help develop him BUT LeBron wanted to be competitive and championship-ready right now so he preferred a sidekick who can shoot and rebound (Chris Bosh could NOT grab boards consistently in Miami).

Kevin Love is a bonafide superstar, at least a top 10 player and a debatable top 5 guy in the league. Love is arguably the best PF in the NBA (honorable mentions to Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge) and if the T'wolves were in the playoff hunt last season, K-Love would have been a legitimate MVP candidate. His shooting stroke from downtown was the best among PFs and 2nd-best among all forwards. Only Kevin Durant made more threes because KD played in 4 more games than K-Love.

We all know that Love is a rebounding machine and a double-double demon. He finished 3rd in boards, 1st in double-doubles and 4th in scoring (a career-high 26.1 ppg). He averaged double-doubles in 5 of his first 6 seasons. He is the second player in the NBA with numbers like that after Dwight Howard (10 straight years with double-double averages).

Do you want more mind-boggling stats? Love scored at least 40 points six times TOGETHER with at least 11 rebounds. By the way, he added 3 triple-doubles and has perfected the art of outlet passes that start the fast break. Can you imagine a Love to Irving or James outlet pass?! No surprise that he had a career-high in assists per game at 4.4 which placed him tops among PFs. All in all, Kevin Love is an amazing offensive player.

However, for all of his offensive prowess, Love is a subpar defender and has non-existent shot blocking skills (Dirk Nowitzki and Amare Stoudemire averaged more blocks per game). He lacks the foot speed and lateral quickness to guard dribble drives on the perimeter. He is an okay low post defender but faster, more agile forwards can score over him with relative ease. That could simply be a lack of effort or fatigue since the T'wolves required a lot from him on the offensive end. Some critics have also harped on Love's tendency to hunt for rebounds (by favoring individual stats) which can negatively hurt a team's defense. This happens a lot when Love decides to leave his defensive assignment to chase a rebound or when he does not chase a shooter to stay near the lane for the rebound. Even with Kevin Love dominating the glass, Minnesota only out-rebounded their opponents by 0.5 boards per game which placed them near the middle of the pack.

While no basketball player is perfect, Kevin Love's strengths definitely trump his weaknesses 10x over. Love will also be paired in Cleveland with an above average paint defender (Anderson Varejao) and an all-world defender in LeBron James who can help hide Love's deficiencies on defense. It is also a possibility that Love will become a better defender because he will have more energy left to devote in defending since less will be expected of him on the offensive end.

How about this sports debate: Is it safe to say that the current Big 3 of the Cavs is better than the Big 3 of Miami from 2011? It's a very tough choice but the advantage goes to Miami by only a slim margin. The Dwyane Wade of 2011 was considered a top 5 player back then while Chris Bosh was within the realm of the top 10-12 players. Both guys also played solid individual defense with D-Wade being a topnotch perimeter defender and shot blocker. Both Wade and Bosh managed to guide and lead their teams to the playoffs while Love and Irving have never been to the playoffs so experience favors the Heat. Of course, LBJ is a much better player these days so whatever advantage Wade and Bosh (during 2011) have over Love and Irving, LBJ can erase that deficit.

Regarding Kyrie Irving, he is an All-star but can he be considered a top 10 player already? Not yet since other PGs are higher/better than him. A quick list of better PGs includes Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul and Steph Curry. Would you pick Irving over those guys? Then there are others like John Wall and Damian Lillard who can also give Irving a run for his money. Let me add that Irving has been injury-prone during his first three years in the league and his defense needs major work. So, is Kyrie Irving a top 15 player? Maybe but I have him within the top 20 for sure.

My early prediction for the Cavs includes a 60-win season and a trip to the NBA Finals. Can they win it all? It's very possible but I'm NOT counting on it because the West is still strong and the Spurs look poised to repeat. As a reference, the 2011 Miami Heat finished with only the 2nd-best record in the East while losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals. The Cavs have a much deeper roster than the 2011 Heat and that should translate into more wins during the regular season but the playoffs is a different matter. There will be growing pains but it will be EXCITING and ENTERTAINING growing pains (and losses). I cannot wait!

How about for the T'wolves? 

Minnesota got the #1 draft pick, Andrew Wiggins and the best player from the Sixers, Thaddeus Young. The T'wolves also got last year's #1 pick Anthony Bennett. On the surface, their future looks bright especially if you include another rookie Zach Levine to the mix but this upcoming season will probably result to another trip to the draft lottery. Andrew Wiggins has all the tools and raw potential to be an excellent player in this league. He is athletic, energetic, explosive and eager to shine in Minnesota. Wiggins showed us some of his firepower (fade-away jumpers, step-backs, off the dribble shots) during the NBA Summer League and if he can consistently deliver that during the season, the NBA better watch out. 

Yes, his jumper needs improvement (catch and shot, adding three-point range) and his ball-handling skills need work but he has physical attributes that cannot be taught (leaping ability, length, motor skills). Some players are simply born with that. Wiggins also has the opportunity to be an excellent defender (think Andre Iguodala) if he puts the work and effort on that aspect of his game. 

Meanwhile, Thad Young also gives the T'wolves some mid-range shooting. He can occasionally make a three and is deceptively fast in the low post when facing up against a bigger defender. However, Young is a poor defender and if he is slotted to start and play PF in the West, he will be thoroughly undersized and inexperienced in that position. Bigger forwards like Griffin and Aldridge will run circles around Young. 

By the way, let's not forget about Anthony Bennett who was somewhat an afterthought after his disastrous rookie year where he delivered 4 points and 3 rebounds in 13 minutes of play. Bennett played in the Summer League looking fit, healthy and agile. Consequently, he finished with solid numbers. If he stays healthy and motivated, Bennett can resurrect his career and be a crucial contributor for the T'wolves. The minutes will be there and it won't come as a surprise if Bennett starts at either forward spot. It's TOO early to give up on him. 

Overall, this was a good trade for both teams. The T'wolves lost a superstar but they gained a possible future superstar. As for the Cavs, they surrendered a big part of their future but they want to compete and win now while LBJ is still in his prime so this was an excellent move as well. 

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