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How Will Kevin Love Fit With The Heat?

Earlier this week, it was reported that Kevin Love would sign with the Miami Heat after he and the Cleveland Cavaliers agreed to a buyout during the final season of his four-year, $120 million. The South Beach partnership makes sense for a few reasons.

Miami could certainly benefit from some frontcourt shooting and legitimate size at the 4 spot. The likes of 6’5 Cody Martin, 6’4 Haywood Highsmith, and 6’7 Jimmy Butler have often held down power forward this season. The Heat also welcome versatile floor-spacing in the frontcourt. Martin has a bit of on-the-move gusto, while Butler rarely hoists threes and Highsmith is a stationary release valve who doesn’t always elicit defensive concern. Last year, P.J. Tucker was a static corner specialist.

Duncan Robinson’s decline has hindered the schematic possibilities at times — this year, Robinson has appeared in 29 games, all off of the bench, is playing 18.1 minutes a night, and is connecting on 32.9 percent of his attempts from behind the three-point line. A malleable shooter with size like Love is a legitimate boon to the rotation. While Love isn’t a Robinson-esque nomad, he provides a sizable range of options as a shooter. He’s comfortable working off of ghost screens, which the Heat love to deploy with Robinson, Tyler Herro, Kyle Lowry, Gabe Vincent, and Martin. His pump-fake-into-a-sidestep three remains formidable. He has a bit of chops firing on the move. He’s a heady relocation artist.

Miami values versatile shooters a good deal in its offense, particularly for those enjoying secondary roles. Love meets the criteria. Given two of its focal points, Butler and Bam Adebayo, are paint-oriented scorers, the more spacing, the better. The lack of downhill juice cramps its 25th-ranked offense substantially, but the decline in long-range shooting from last season is another prevalent factor. The Heat led the NBA in three-point percentage at 38.6 percent a year ago and are down to 28th at 33.7 percent this year.

Love doesn’t alleviate the driving shortcomings directly, but he should help with the latter issue. He could ease the tension of a compact court as well because defenses grant him notable respect beyond the arc as a big man. That’s not the case for Highsmith, Butler, or Tucker. Even Martin isn’t a “stop at all costs” marksman. Love, meanwhile, legitimately draws the attention of the opposition.

I don’t know how often Miami will feature it, but Love’s passing remains quite useful. He’s a steady decision-maker and should see a fairly seamless transition into the Heat’s dribble handoff system. He discerns proper reads, can capitalize when doubled on post-ups, and is a timely processor when openings arise. His outlet passing pairs aptly with Butler’s proclivity to leak out for seals and early offense chances as well.

Whether it’s organic or intentional, I certainly expect the veteran’s playmaking to bolster the offense. If Love and Adebayo share the floor for long stretches, Horns and Delay sets where either is a choice to facilitate the offense for off-ball scorers/shooters should be part of the playbook. Giving Adebayo’s interior exploits, a viable outside presence who brings his own playmaking credentials in the frontcourt is a worthwhile addition.

Part of the question for Love’s holistic offensive signature is whether he can rediscover the levels he was at from deep prior to this season. He’s only shooting 35.4 percent beyond the arc after netting 38.4 percent of his looks between 2017 and 2022. The possession-by-possession impact will lord over opponents, but he needs to convert the actual opportunities he receives. He’s not been the mismatch scorer of yesteryear, shooting just 46.7 percent on twos and typically failing to find much success when he dares to venture inside the arc these days.

Cleveland relied on him for long stretches last season as a bench hub in which he blended outside shooting and interior scoring against undersized defenders. His success there fueled his genuine Sixth Man of the Year candidacy that lasted roughly two-thirds of the year. Can he do that in a pinch with the Heat? Or, is he destined to be a long-range specialist whose value is tied to volume and versatility rather than volume, versatility, and efficiency, which complements his low-block work?

Love’s viability as a rotation cog for a team with playoff aspirations hinges mightily on the scope of his offensive contributions. The defense is quite limited, and I worry how he fares in a system like Miami’s that prioritizes movement skills and multifaceted responsibilities. Love isn’t mobile. In the Heat’s switch-heavy, no-middle scheme, that could spell trouble. Ground coverage is paramount, especially with digs and stunt-and-recovers. Those may be tasks Love can’t complete regularly.

They endure Herro’s struggles because of his perimeter creation. As Robinson’s jumper has waned, his defensive flaws haven’t generally been worth weathering from their perspective. Love’s might not be, either, if his offensive production looks similar to his time in Cleveland this season.

He also isn’t a credible backup 5 because of his deficiencies laterally and vertically, incapable of offering effective coverage in drop, at the level, hedging, or switching. He’s not a secondary rim protector, either. His rebounding remains quite practical (99th percentile in defensive rebounding rate), but Miami is already fourth as a team there, although fortifying a strength is certainly a positive.

For as enticing and natural as the fit is offensively, I really worry about Love defensively with the Heat. The Cavs are the league’s third-ranked defense anchored by two domineering rim protectors. They’re starved for frontcourt shooting and excised Love from the rotation a month ago. They presumably decided these defensive imperfections were too much to overlook.

Miami is a similarly excellent defense like Cleveland. The paths to that mark are starkly different, though. Ranking third in opposing rim frequency, Miami aims to keep teams away from the rim altogether with rangy perimeter options, aggressive help rotations, and Adebayo’s instincts and swarming limbs. Ranking 21st in opposing rim field goal percentage, the lack of interior size is an issue when teams get there, but teams mostly fail to get there.

Cleveland is 19th and second in those respective categories. With narrower point-of-attack selections, it funnels offenses to the hoop and erases them once they’ve arrived. It’s the inverse of Miami. Conceivably, Love can survive defensively in the Cavaliers’ approach because of backline reinforcements. I’m not so sure he can with the Heat’s style, though it’s possible the superior surrounding perimeter context is better suited to cover for him than in Cleveland.

A change of scenery could absolutely rectify some of the hurdles facing Love. I don’t want to downplay that possibility. Miami has a history of fashioning preferable roles for those who maybe didn’t have one elsewhere. Love’s offensive arsenal matches head coach Erik Spoelstra’s inclinations and could fill clear gaps in the current rotation; Spoelstra’s schematic creativity may also unearth ways to paper over Love’s blemishes.

The defense, however, continues to gnaw at me when I envision how this experiment plays out. Ultimately, it all leaves me a bit more worried than optimistic.