When the Miami Heat brought Kevin Love aboard in February using part of their mid-level exception, the reception from Heat faithful was lukewarm at best. The 15-year NBA veteran finished his stint with the Cavaliers this season averaging 8.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game shooting 46% from two, 33% from deep, and 87% from the free throw line. Not the greatest marks for a 34-year-old stretch big who takes 68% of his shots from 3-point range, per Cleaning the Glass.
However, those numbers are a bit off from the production he was churning out last season. If we flash back to the 2021-22 campaign, those marks make a modest jump up to to 13.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game on 49% from two, 39% from deep, and 83% from the line.
It’s no surprise then that many Heat fans were skeptical of what a post-prime Kevin Love could provide to Miami in the midst of an erratic season. Heading into the All-Star break, the team had lost two straight games and limped into the mid-season stoppage with a ho-hum 32-27 record. On top of this, Love was dealing with a nagging injury and had fallen out of the Cavs rotation.
Things only got worse once Love came aboard, as the Heat dropped their first two games after the break. Many questions were presented regarding Love’s inefficiency from beyond the arc and his shortcomings on defense, specifically his lack of rim protection and lateral quickness. He went from starter to backup and it wasn’t clear how much he’d help the team in the postseason.
So it’s been a bit of a shock that, through two rounds of the playoffs, Love has been among the Heat’s most reliable players. All of a sudden, a swing in the middle of a tumultuous season appears to be a home run. Here are a few ways in which Love has positively impacted Miami.
The Kevin Love revival tour began in earnest when he came off the bench in Game 1 against Milwaukee with 18 points in 22 minutes. He also just missed a double-double with his eight rebounds. Four of his made field goals were 3s, many of which were generated out of pick-and-pop actions.
The Bucks struggled with that all series long, particularly in game one and his gravity has even created opportunities for others to get good looks.
In the previous clip, Butler and Love ran a two man P&R action with Love floating out to beyond the 3-point line after setting a screen on Holiday. Love is obviously a threat from deep, so it was key that Holiday and Lopez establish constant communication all the way through the play. Unfortunately, that was not the case as Lopez played the sequence straight up without switching and Holiday did the opposite, picking up Love and creating a clear path for Butler to get to the rim untouched. Love was not directly involved in the basket, but the simple fact that his shot had to be respected bent the defense in a way that none of the other centers on the roster can. His shooting gravity is incredibly valuable on his own.
Here is another example of Love’s impact, this time playing alongside Bam:
This action run by the Heat back in the first game against New York started out as a conventional double drag screen, which is two screens set back to back for a ball-handler in semi-transition. Bam goes on to set a flare screen (screen set away from the ball, allowing the player being screened for to fade to the perimeter, rather than the basket) that Love then uses to get a path to the basket and produce an and-1 out of it against the late arriving Mitchell Robinson. Even when playing alongside Bam, Love has been effective.
Long before he arrived on the shores of South Beach, Love developed a reputation as a premier outlet passer. Time and time again, he demonstrated an uncanny knack for pushing the ball in transition using the hit-ahead pass that is on time and on target. Throwing these outlets aren’t easy, but Love somehow makes it look routine.
Take a moment to rewatch the last clip in that outlet montage. Absolutely filthy work getting that overhead pass over the arm of uber-athletic Obi Toppin.
Every team puts a premium on experience when building a roster. There really is no substitute for it, especially in the playoffs. The championship experience that Love brings to the table cannot be overstated. He demands respect from his teammates and has done a great job leading by example.
Speaking of examples, here is one that shows off Love’s commitment to winning through the sacrifice of his body.
Four charges in one game is no easy task and not many are willing to sell out to that degree. He does the same on defense, where he has been much improved compared to how he looked in his first games with the club. He is still vulnerable to particular matchups, but he is giving all he can to help the others and prevent breakdowns.
The box-score stats don’t illustrated the full scope of Love’s impact. A deeper dive reveals the intangibles he has provided in his impactful playoff minutes. From his low-maintenance demeanor, to his gritty play-style, to basketball IQ, there is no doubt that this low-risk signing has reaped major rewards so far.