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The case for Kevin Love

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Kevin Love has the interest of several teams around the NBA. Should the Nuggets pursue him this summer if the Cavaliers make him available? There are certainly reasons that Love would fit nicely along the young core.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

A few days ago, the Denver Post's Christopher Dempsey wrote that the Denver Nuggets are one of many teams that will be interested in pursuing disgruntled Cavaliers forward, Kevin Love, this summer. In his article, Dempsey explains that the Nuggets have had interest in Love for a couple of years and even explored the possibility of bringing him to Denver in free agency last summer. Love, who was traded to the Cavs in 2014, re-signed with the Cavs last summer on a five-year deal. There were rumors that the Cavs were considering trade options for Love at the trade deadline earlier this year but the team ultimately decided to keep their roster intact and make another run at the NBA championship. If the team comes up short once again this summer, Love very well might find himself on the trading block once again. If so, there is a very strong case that he would fit nicely in Denver.

Shooting

Shooting is among the biggest weaknesses on the Nuggets roster right now and may be a weakness that follows the team as long as the roster is built around Emmanuel Mudiay and Kenneth Faried. The league has evolved into a three-out, four-out, and even five-out league, meaning there are rarely more than two non-shooters on the court at any given time. With Mudiay and Faried both inconsistent at best as catch-and-shoot shooters, the Nuggets are almost always struggling to place enough reliable shooters on the court to space the floor. As a team the Nuggets rank 24th in 3FG% and in the bottom half of the league in the rate in which they attempt threes.

Love is among the best floor-spacing bigs in the NBA and would almost certainly help Denver improve in both categories. He is a career 36% three-point shooter, a mark that may even disguise his actual shooting potential since his most efficient years were in Minnesota where the offense revolved around him. A front court of Love and Nikola Jokic would be among the league's best front court shooting duos, if not the best. Jusuf Nurkic has even shown that he has range from 20 feet and in and would likely create plenty of spacing despite his lack of a three-point shot.

It's rare to have a front court that features two three-point threats but it is also rare to have a successful team built around a poor-shooting point guard. Mudiay may improve his shot over time, but his best skills will almost certainly remain his ability to attack the basket, collapse the defense, and make cross court passes. Replacing Faried with Love could  maximize Mudiay's effectiveness on the offensive end and speed up his development.

Playmaking

One of the trends of the "modern" NBA is an evolution toward playmaking at all five positions. Whereas traditionally players had very tightly defined roles on offense - rebounder, shooter, ball handler, screener, post up guy - more and more teams are built around versatile, high IQ players that have skill sets that expand beyond their traditional roles. Once again, the Nuggets have that on the offensive end in Jokic. At 6'10" Jokic can play the role of a traditional post player, using excellent footwork on the block to create scoring opportunities for himself and others. But he also has the skill set of a 6'10" guard, able to make complex, quick reads from the elbows or top of the key or initiate the offense from the top of the key.

Love is very similar. He's great at seeing reading the court one or two steps ahead of the defense and savvy enough to know when to cut, when to slide his feet into open space, when to screen, and when to start gaining position for a rebound. An offense featuring both Jokic and Love could look similar to the Spurs offense, where the ball is able to reverse left to right quickly, allowing each player the opportunity to read and react quickly and allowing cutting lanes for guards on the perimeter. Jokic and Love would also create a very nice hi-lo pairing in transition, with both players being able to rim run or trail the play and make the over-the-top pass into the post from the top of the key.  In the video below, you can see how the Spurs are able to work the hi-lo game to get great post-up opportunities.

Alongside Nurkic, Love would allow the Nuggets to run a spread pick and roll, more along the lines of what Andre Drummond and Ersan Ilyasova did in Detroit before the latter was traded to Orlando. Nurkic has shown a lot of improvement as a roll guy in pick and roll situations and he has the size and strength to create a ton of gravity once he perfects rolling hard to the rim and finishing. Mudiay and Nurkic are actually fairly similar to Reggie Jackson and Drummond in a lot of ways. Gary Harris is also incredibly similar to Kentavious Caldwell Pope and Wilson Chandler is comparable enough to Marcus Morris, making this comparison fairly accurate. That Detroit lineup was one of the best starting five units in the NBA. Their success as a unit was overlooked due to the fact that they had one of the worst benches in the NBA.

In the video below, notice how many of the sets are designed to arrive at a 1-5 pick-and-roll with the other three players spacing the court. A stretch four like Love allows for the right amount of spacing to make these types of sets effective.

Star Potential

Perhaps the most important and most controversial reason for the Nuggets to be interested in Kevin Love is because he is a star.  When he was in Minnesota, playing alongside a supporting cast that was not nearly as talented as the 2016-17 Nuggets project to be, Love had one of the most unique and versatile stat lines in recent history, averaging 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, while shooting 37.6% on 6.6 3FGA per game. The combination of scoring, shooting, and rebounding is only comparable to Dirk Nowitzki, a player that led his team to the NBA finals on two separate occasions.

Love is a guy that the other team must gameplan around, a guy that can draw a double team in isolation, on pick and pop, and in the post, and a guy that can take over a game when the team needs. The Nuggets haven't had that kind of player since Carmelo Anthony left in 2011. The loudest complaints about Love among fans and certain sections of the media are that his stats are hollow or that his individual success doesn't contribute to winning basketball. Those complaints are largely predicated on the fact that the Timberwolves failed to make the playoffs in a loaded western conference in the six seasons that Love was on the team. It's a tough label to give Love for his "failures" alongside Dante Cunningham and Kevin Martin.

All of that aside, Kevin Love might be the best chance the Nuggets have at landing a star-caliber player in the near future. The Nuggets will likely pick between 6th and 9th in this year's draft and the chances of landing a star player at that spot is quite small. Equally as important, Denver is not a free agent destination, especially in a summer when half of the league will have plenty of cap space to spend on free agents. The short list of star players available this summer probably won't even give Denver a look, let alone sign a reasonable contract.

The trade market can be equally as dubious. Around the deadline there were rumors that Denver was considering a deal to acquire Blake Griffin from the Los Angeles Clippers. Griffin is one of the league's 10 best players but he is nearing the end of his deal. The Nuggets would risk quite a bit in signing a player that could walk away in just 15 months.  Love, on the other hand, has three more years on his current deal and a player option in his fourth year that could keep him from walking out on the organization until 2019. It might be the best chance Denver has at landing a star player over the next two or three years.

There are downsides to Love's game. He is a bit injury prone and is a massive defensive liability. Nurkic is probably good enough to make up for many of Love's shortcomings as a defender but a Jokic-Love front court might give up as many points as it scores.  There's also a chance that Love doesn't want to be here. There were rumors that Love had his eye on playing in Boston or Los Angeles before he was traded to the Cavaliers. While his contract prevents him from leaving, an unhappy Kevin love could attempt to force his way out of Denver if this wasn't the place he wanted to be.

Ultimately, gaining Love would be a risky but worthwhile move, assuming the team was able to hold on to most of their young talent. The Cavaliers are a good trade partner since they want the things Denver is most likely to part with; solid veterans and draft picks. A package of Danilo Gallinari, Will Barton, Kenneth Faried, and one of the team's many first round draft picks could be enough to bring in Love (along with a player like Iman Shumpert to make the money work). Or there could be a three-team deal out there that involves fewer Nuggets veterans and more picks and possibly even Jusuf Nurkic or Gary Harris. Losing either Harris or Nurkic is far less palatable but still might be the best choice for Denver.

If Love does become available this summer, the Nuggets front office will have a difficult decision to make. The price might be steep but Love might be better right now than any player on the roster will ever be. Surrounding Love with the guys Denver already has on the roster might bring out the best in Love all while helping the young Nuggets develop more quickly since they'll have skilled players at all five positions. It sounds like Love is on Denver's radar. For now, we'll have to sit back and see how it all unfolds.