All You Need is Love?

July 17th, 2014 by Nate Smith

Was John Lennon full of it? There’s been a lot of debate of late on whether the Cavs should parlay some of their good draft fortune over the last three years into an elite, “win now” NBA talent. The trade target most emblematic of that “win now” ethos: Kevin Love. The below look at the Cavs salary cap, as of Thursday morning, is courtesy of Basketball Insiders. To make this a complete roster, the Cavs have several players to add, and not a lot of cap room to do it.  The cap is set to $63.065 million, which leaves the Cavs approximately $2.44 million under the cap. (As I understand it*, the “room exception” that the Cavs have offered to Mike Miller will only be in effect after the Cavs reach the salary cap. Miller — and now James Jones on a league minimum– won’t sign a contract till after that.) Given those constraints, let’s examine how Kevin Love would fit on the Cavs.

CavsSalaryCap

What do the stats say about Kevin Love?

Kevin Love provides four things at an elite level for his position: three point shooting, rebounding, passing, and finishing at the basket. He’s an elite offensive player, as is evidenced by 26 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 4.4 assists last year. Kevin Love also operates at an incredibly high usage rate of 28.8%., but is this going to work on a team where Kyrie Irving has traditionally had 28% usage rate, and LeBron has a 32% usage rate? Certainly, a lower usage rate can help Love. As good as he is from three and around the basket, Love tends to launch his share of mid-range jumpers at a low rate. According to basketball-reference, Kevin was 46-130  (35%) from 10-16 feet last year, and 76-190 (40%) from 16 feet to the three point line.  Currently, he’s his team’s No. 1 option on offense, so he forces some shots.

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KLove’s 2014 shot chart.

Playing with Kyrie and LeBron would alleviate the need to take so many mid-rangers. Putting Love in post-ups, pick-and-roll, and pick-and-pop is a very nice option for the Cavs. Love finishes at the basket at 67%, and is a good three point shooter in pick-and-pops. But when he shoots mid-rangers, he can tend to pass up better options. That being said, having more potent partners in pick-and roll situations is going to help him get space.

As for other advanced stats, Love put up a monstrous .245 WS/48 and a PER of 26.9 last year, but both are stats that greatly favor volume rebounders. For a non-rebounding influenced stat, RAPM Favors love as well. He posted a 2.9 combined RAPM, good for 25th in the NBA, and his 2.81 offensive RAPM was good for 19th. His team did play better when he was on the floor. But strangely, his effectiveness as a floor stretcher was overrated. For another Gotbuckets stat, lets look at Randall Cooper’s four factors APM, which can measure a players’ overall effect on his team’s shooting. Love’s impact on his team’s effective field goal percentage only ranked in the 41st percentile in 2014 and in the 39th percentile in 2013. Part of that is probably the quality of the shooters that the Wolves put with him, but some of it was Love’s penchant for long twos.

What Love does do for his team is increase their offensive rebounding rate and the number of free throws they shoot. He was in the 88th percentile for improving his team’s offensive rebound rate in 2014, and 99th in 2013, 2012, and 100th in 2011. Suffice it to say, that he’s one of the league’s best at this. As far as drawing fouls, Kevin attempts about eight free throws a game over the last three seasons. And he was in the 86th, 84th, and 89th percentile in 2014-2011 at increasing his teams’ overall free throw attempts.

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Defensively, Love isn’t a bad player.  He’s not a good one either, but he has certainly improved. He posted a -2.16 DRAPM in 2011, -1.41 in 2012, -.36 in 2013, and .09 in 2014. Similarly  Going from a net loss player to a break-even player on defense is commendable. He’s become a not awful system defender, and, given his age, he probably has a few years of defensive uptick left in him. ( Kevin Hetrick’s research on big man aging curves provides a good discussion of this phenomenon). According to NBA.com’s player tracking data, Love allowed opponents to shoot 57.4% at the rim this past season, which is roughly in the 30th percentile in the league for all positions, and correspondingly, pretty low for a center/power forward. He only provides .8 steals and .5 blocks per game. In terms of his ability to effect opponent team field goal percentage, Love has improved has a system player going from 63rd to 75th to 85th to 86th percentile in the NBA for all positions, which is reflected in his RAPM numbers. As far as effecting his team defensive foul rate, Kevin was at just about the 70th percentile over the last three seasons, which is meh for a big man.

What Love does do better than almost anyone is defensive rebound. With an almost 30% defensive rebound rate for his career, Kevin helps eliminate second chance opportunities for the other team. He has ranked no worse than the 96th percentile in helping his team’s overall rebound rate on the d-boards over the last three seasons, according to FFAPM.

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In summary, Love is a very good finisher, three point shooter, passer, and elite rebounder. He has developed himself into an adequate system defender. His lowered usage with the Cavs would probably pump up his offensive efficiency, but this is not guaranteed. However, Love’s biggest value is that he would relegate Tristan Thompsan to the bench. The 2014 version of Thompson was not a good player. He posted a RAPM of -2.04, and was responsible for only two wins according to SWAgR. Tristan’s FFAPM puts him in the 44th percentile for helping his team lower eFG, which is lousy for a big. Replacing Thompson with Love would theoretically increase the Cavs scoring differential by five points per 100 possessions. I love Tristan, and I think he’ll eventually develop into a solid player, but… yikes.

What would the Cavs have to give up to get Love?

Let’s examine the purported “initial offer” of Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett, and a first rounder to get Love. As the link shows, the Cavs are about $1.2 million dollars short on incoming salaries to make trade legal. In this case, they’d have to either send along Brendan Haywood and his contract, or Carrick Felix and Matthew Dellavedova. I’d vastly prefer Haywood go over Delly. From a basketball standpoint, the trade is in the Cavs favor in the short term.

Dion Waiters would be the centerpiece. As good as Anthony Bennett looks in summer league, he was also the worst player in the NBA last year of players who played significant minutes. So Dion… Dion posted a PER of 14 last year, and a WS/48 of .037. He averaged 15.9 points and three assists over 29.6 minutes, with a solid TS% of .508, that was mostly pulled down by his bad free throw shooting.  RAPM was similar for Dion. He posted a -.09 RAPM, with a .92 ORAPM. Dion improved as the season went on and finished with a .530 TS% on a 28.6 usage. What is interesting about Dion is that he is a pretty effective floor stretcher. Dion shot 44-98 (45%) from 10-16 feet, and 125-290 (43%) from 16 feet to inside the three line.  Then 37% from three. Dion’s finishing game is still a work in progress, but we all saw improvement as the year went on and Dion was able to get to the line, and pass out of drives instead of forcing shots. For a second year player, his outside shooting numbers are really good. No, they’re not Kyrie good, but we’ve been spoiled by him.

Dion was a solid catch-and-shoot player last year, dropping in 41.6% of his three point attempts and 41.9% overall. He shot 38.9% on pull-ups, including a bad 26% from three. But Dion’s ability to hit from 16 feet on did provide floor balance. His FFAPM ranks his ability to improve his team’s effective field goal percentage in the 82nd percentile. He also gets to the line at about 4.1 times a game, but his ability to help his team get to the line is also in the 82nd percentile

Dion is a nice player and he projects to keep improving for a couple years, and he’s already ahead of the curve, especially on his jump shot. If his defense improves with his offense, the Cavs or the Wolves will have a nice player on their hands. But for Minnesota, a Dion Waiters centerpiece trade seems a little short of the value they’d want to receive in return for Love. To get a better idea of what would be a “fair” trade, lets look at a couple blockbuster trades for comparison.

In 2011, Utah traded Deron Williams to the Nets for Derrick Favors (third pick, 2010), Devin Harris, and two first round draft picks. Harris was a very solid point guard in 2011, who scored 15 points and dished out 7.5 assists for New Jersey. This was the equivalent of four first round picks. The Cavs would have to add another first rounder to match this deal.

Also in 2011, Denver traded Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks for Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, the Knicks 2014 first-round draft pick, the Warriors’ 2012 second-round pick, the Warriors’ 2013 second-round pick and $3 million in cash. This was because Straight Shot frontman, James Dolan, couldn’t wait for ‘Melo to be a free agent the following summer. If you consider Chandler, Gallinari, and Mozgov as first round pick quality, you can consider this a trade for four first rounders, three second rounders, and $3 million. Suffice to say, New York destroyed their team to get Melo and have been paying for it ever since.

In 2012, Oklahoma City moved James Harden to the Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first rounders, and a second rounder. These are four equivalent first rounders and one second. It’s becoming clear: the going rate for a star in his prime is four first round quality players and a little bit more. The current Waiters, Brennett, and a first offer falls short.

The Cavs have the ability to add two more draft picks (they have future firsts from Miami and Memphis), and another first in 2017. Cavs should add another first and a second to their initial offer. Anything more than that is overpaying. There’s also another problem: this trade would leave the Cavs woefully thin at guard. Instead of being deep at guard, suddenly, the Cavs would have to add a third ball-handler. Harris and Wiggins aren’t ready to assume that role yet.

Should the Cavs trade Wiggins?

How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man? Why is Mona Lisa smiling?  Who shot JFK? What the hell was the end of Lost about?…  The Wiggins question is more polarizing than any of those dilemmas. If you’ve listened to Cleveland sports radio in the last week, it may have caused you to pull your hair out. To answer the question, one needs to project the player Andrew Wiggins will be this year, and the player he’ll be in three, five, and seven years. One way to do this is to take our opinions of Wiggins out of the equation and just look at No. 1 NBA draft picks overall. In 2009, 82games calculated that a No. 1 pick traditionally has a 70% chance of being a star and a 95% chance of being solid or better. More recently Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com calculated the average value of a No. 1 pick using wins shares. He calculated that an average NBA top pick is worth 33.9 wins over the first five seasons of his career, an average of 6.83 wins per year. By comparison, Kevin Love contributed 47 wins over the course his first six years: an average of  7.83 wins per year. However, in three of the last four years, Love contributed over 10 Wins Shares, including 14.3, last year.

Silver noted that the market for wins is about $1.75 million per win. At Gotbuckets, we’ve noted that $1.6 million per win is solid value, and $2 million per win is overpaying (we calculate wins differently, but the price per wins theory is the same).  A No. 1 overall pick generates 33.9 wins and costs $35 million over those first five years. That computes to a jaw-dropping value of $1.03 million per win.

Of course, Anthony Bennett blows this theory out of the water, as he produced -.04 wins total last year. He might have to pick up the pace to live up to this trend… Bennett aside, a number one pick produces such a high value that he is definitely worth much more than an “average” first rounder. If NBA team salaries were unlimited, this wouldn’t matter. But the cap system forces teams to be frugal. It can be argued that a big reason the “Big Three” era fell apart in Miami was because the team couldn’t add enough quality players around three $20 million dollar contracts, and remain competitive. They added veterans on low money contracts, and when those players “aged out,” fielding a championship team became difficult.

The question is, how close is Wiggins to an “average ” No. 1 pick. My bet: average or better in terms of wins (though I’m betting his wins will grade out better via RAPM than wins shares, given my hunch that ‘Drew will be defensive savant). Hence, Wiggins plus a first or two is more than “fair” value for Love.

How many wins is Kevin Love worth? Let us assume that using Wins Shares he will be worth 9.4 wins: the average of his last four seasons. Let us also assume that he’ll sign four year, $80 million dollar contract after he opts out of his current one, for a total of $96.74 million. That makes, with his current deal, an average of $2.06 million per win: a high number. But if Love averages closer to his peak of 14 wins, he’s a steal. Averaging 11 wins per season (a realistic number), Love provides average value. But that’s using wins shares, and as I’ve noted, Wins Shares tends to favor high volume rebounders. Love is not going to get as many rebounds with the Cavs as he did with the T-Wolves. Using RAPM and SWAgR, Love’s numbers are much more pedestrian. By this metric, Love produced 4.63, 7.41, 2.3, and 11.9 wins in each of the last for seasons for a total of 19.57 wins, and an average of 4.89 wins per season. Using that average, he’s costing a whopping $3.96 million per win on his new contract. Even his peak of 11.9 provides only a slightly better than average value of $1.74 million per win. That means Kevin Love, given his defense and injury history is a huge risk to give that kind of money to. But, he is the only player in the top 20 in wins from 2014 available.

Conclusions

Most of this debate comes down to our biases and how we project them on to players. If we believe Dion, Wiggins, and Bennett will all develop into good to great NBA players, and sooner rather than later, then it’s a dumb trade. If we believe Kevin Love is a player who averaged a .245 wins per 48 minutes (which puts him No. 4 in the NBA in WS/48), and he can stay healthy, and he can maintain his usage rate, then he can be considered a very elite player, then he is a “must get.” By that logic, a trade would put two of the top four players in the NBA on the same team.

The other factor is the “win now” versus “win later” mentality. Love, the argument goes, gives the Cavs the opportunity to compete for an NBA championship now. If the Cavs don’t “go for it” now, they may never have the opportunity again. LeBron could be fickle and leave again. The Cavs might not solve their defensive woes, and Dion, TT, Tristan, and ‘Tony might not develop into anything great… There are just so many variables that are simply unknown when it comes to Kevin Love and these young players we’re talking about. We all hold strong opinions, but if any of us could predict the future accurately, we wouldn’t be wasting our time reading or writing this blog.

I’m against trading for Love for a few reasons.

  1. Most importantly, There’s absolutely no guarantee that he re-signs with the Cavs if/when he enters free agency next summer, and he’s not going to sign an extension, nor would it be in his interest to. Conversely, the Cavs have Waiters rights for at least three more seasons; Bennett’s for four; and Wiggins’ for five. That level of risk would be unacceptable for any billion dollar company, and it should be unacceptable for the Cavs.
  2. Love’s injury history is not insignificant. It’s just as checkered as Andy’s, and Love is younger…
  3. Love’s numbers are inflated. Kevin’s not going to have as high of usage with the Cavs, and he’s not going to duplicate his rebound rate. His shot efficiency may improve, but there are no guarantees.
  4. Kevin’s biggest strength is rebounding, which is not an area of weakness for the currently constructed roster. Kevin doesn’t solve the Cavs biggest need: interior defense, at which Love is adequate, not great.
  5. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” the old cliché goes… The Cavs just don’t have enough quality NBA players to give up two or three for Love. Keeping Wiggins, Bennett, and Waiters provides three bodies that can all play two positions. The odds are that at least one of those players develops into someone who can come close to matching Love’s peak wins contributions. Keeping the youngins and coaching them up follows the WWPD (what would Popovich do?) credo.

From a roster construction standpoint, If the Cavs give up Dion, they’re down a starting two guard. Yes, they could start Delly and Kyrie, but that leaves Joe Harris as the top backup guard. If the Cavs give up Wiggins, they’re down their top reserve wing. Meanwhile, the Cavs have LeBron, Tristan, and Andy who can all play the power forward position (assuming Bennet leaves, cause Tristan isn’t going anywhere. With Rich Paul as his agent, Tristan is protected like Kaiser Söze). If the Cavs do end up with Love, he’ll have to spend at least half his time at center. But without him, they remain woefully thin at the spot, with only below average options for augmentation. It’s not a pleasant dilemma, but at least we no longer have to watch Alonzo Gee play 36 minutes a night.

Alternatives

Trading for Love will be much easier next summer, when the Cavs have Brendan Haywood’s non-guaranteed $10 million dollar contract to dangle. The Cavs will also have fear on their side. Whatever team hold’s Kevin’s contract risks Love’s loss without compensation. The Cavs should not duplicate James Dolan’s mistake of giving up a third of their roster for a guy who could join next off-season anyway.

Ekpe Udoh, Cover Boy

Another alternative would involve the Cavs turning their attention to an interior defender with adequate offense instead of towards Love. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of those guys available, and almost no palatable options in free agency. Omeka Okafor, Jermaine O’Neal, Greg Oden, Ryan Hollins, Nazr Muhommed, Elton Brand, Tree Rollins, Patrick Ewing comes out of retirement, Block-bot 2000… Despite my distaste, the Cavs are going to end up with one or two of those guys on vet minimums. There are younger options who are not good at offense, like Greg Stiemsma. IMO, Ekpe Udoh remains the best current option on free agency market, at least as a player who can continue to grow. But he’s also thin, has an injury history, and is Hollinsian at times on offense.

Another option would be to trade for the shot-blocker the Cavs need. The only player I’ve identified that might be gettable is Charlotte’s Bismack Biyombo. He has steadily improved over the last three seasons, is only 21, and was one of the league leaders in blocking shots without fouling. However, he’s still raw after three years, and given the departures of Josh McRoberts and Anthony Tolliver, Charlotte is now thin up-front. Al Jefferson doesn’t exactly have the most reliable body, either. But do Zeller and Vonleh make Bismack expendable now? Would they trade? What about this swap? Speaking of Zellers, this is making me miss Tyler.

It would take a first+ to get Biyambo. Maybe the Cavs should look at Kyle O’Quinn? Jeff Whithey? Ugh. We’re scraping the barrel’s bottom. The discussion of a defensive presence is probably a side note to the Love debate, not a replacement. (And no, I’m not going to pitch a Larry Sanders trade. Let’s move on).

Getting back to Love, a reader, Matthew, gave me an idea: instead of looking to trade for Love, the Cavs should be looking at fellow 2015 free agent, Marc Gasol, either at the trade deadline if Memphis is floundering, or through a sign-and-trade next summer. He fills some of the Cavs defensive needs much better than Love. Sadly, Marc doesn’t have nearly as fun of a name. There are so many fun article titles that could be punned with the name “Kevin Love.” “Gasol,” just doesn’t have the same ring. But, you know, that probably won’t stop us from debating Marc’s merits every waking minute next week or next summer…

* I calculated the Cavs cap to the best of my ability, but info is scarce and hasn’t filtered to the internet. Also, after a very long discussion last night, I don’t believe the Cavs have any trade exceptions.
 
All Wins Shares data provided by basketball-reference.com. RAPM data courtesy of @talkingpractice. FFAPM data courtesy of Gotbuckets.com and @laughingcavs.

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