With power forward Kevin Love officially done for the season, the Cleveland Cavaliers will have to figure out quickly how to replace his production by Monday when they play game 1 versus the Chicago Bulls.
The two most likely candidates to fill his spot are Shawn Marion and Tristan Thompson, who have not made big contributions to the team this year. Marion was a legitimate scoring threat and high flyer back in his early days with the Phoenix Suns, and even recently a key piece with the Dallas Mavericks, but this season he has failed to make much of an impact; averaging 4.8 points while playing only 19 minutes per game. His best days appear to be behind him although he may be able to still make an impact on the defensive end of the ball.
Unless the Cavs go small with LeBron James at the power forward, it is most likely Tristan Thompson who will take on the starting role. He is 2 inches taller than Marion at 6’9, and is a more traditional power forward where Marion is built like a small forward. Thompson might make them better defensively but he does not have the ability to score the ball as well as Kevin Love. This year he has averaged only 8.5 points per game while playing 26.8 minutes a night. He could prove effective on defense and cleaning the glass, but he will not be able to replace Love’s scoring numbers on his own. The Bulls have a clear advantage at the position and should look to go to their big men; especially Pau Gasol, early and often. They can also focus more of their attention on LeBron and Kyrie Irving defensively. This could prove devastating if the Bulls are able to shut down one or both of them.
What Love lacks defensively he has made up for in other ways for Cleveland.
He is arguably the best rebounding power forward in the NBA, maybe one of the best rebounders period. Love is also a multi-dimensional scoring threat who can score in the post or sit out on the arc and knock down open threes when Lebron or Irving drive to the basket. Today’s NBA puts great value on stretch 4’s and Kevin Love has the ability to play the stretch 4 role or post up like a traditional power forward. His absence will take away a lot of versatility from Cleveland’s offense. With Kevin Love in the lineup for the Cavaliers during the playoffs, they have a +24.7 offensive rating, +18.4 assist %, and +3.2 offensive and defensive rebounding %. The offense clearly comes together better when Love is on the court.
With Love gone, it is also possible Bulls rookie Nikola Mirotic will become a matchup problem for Cleveland, with Shawn Marion being a good defender but too small to guard the 6’10 Mirotic and Tristan Thompson not quick enough to keep up with Niko Suave. The injury to Kevin Love might force Cleveland coach David Blatt to use unconventional lineups, which gives the possibility of match up nightmares all over the court.
Although the Cavs would not be in this position if not for LeBron James, Kevin Love has been an important piece to their success and his ability to score the basketball, space the floor, and rebound at a high rate will be sorely missed and possibly a deciding factor in this series.