The Cleveland Cavaliers are making moves, and they are certainly big moves.
LeBron James will have his best Cleveland team possible next year with Kyrie Irving and now the addition of Kevin Love. While losing Andrew Wiggins certainly hurts the team, they instead acquire an All NBA player in Love.
Along with the trade, Love has also already agreed to a long term contract with the Cavs according to multiple reports. This takes one of the biggest fish off the market for next year’s 2015 free agent class, and supposedly one of the Knicks’ top targets. So where do the Knicks go from here?
It is critical for the Knicks to bring in a center next year where two of the game’s best are available. Unfortunately for the Knicks, LaMarcus Aldridge has spoken like he will be locked up for the long hall in Portland leaving one of the best centers in the NBA still available: Marc Gasol.
Not only does Gasol fit perfectly into the triangle offense, but he is an extremely good defender. The Spanish center won Defensive Player of the Year in the 2012-2013 season, and unlike the Knick’s last DPOY winner, he can actually have an impact on the offensive end of the court.
In six NBA seasons, all with the Memphis Grizzlies, Gasol averaged 13.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.9 assists, while also blocking 1.5 shots per game. His improvement as a passer has been significant the past two years as he averaged 4.0 assists in 12-13 and 3.6 assists in 13-14.
Offensively, Gasol is a versatile center scoring the basketball. While he can score inside (79% shooting on shots 0-3 feet from the hoop), he often (27% of FGA) takes mid range jumpers (10-16 feet) where he shot 44% last year. His average win share since he entered the league is 8 and peaked at 11.5 back in 12-13, so it is easy to see he has a serious impact on the court.
Now how does Gasol help the Knicks beat the Cavs?
Ever since LeBron entered the league, his team has been the team to beat. One weakness he had on the Cavs the first time around was his awful supporting cast. His second best player? Up for grabs between Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Yeah, exactly.
When he left for Miami, he made sure he had the best supporting cast possible, and I cannot imagine a better roster than what Pat Riley put together for him. James’s Heat made four straight finals appearances, winning the middle two, and were obviously good enough to win the others.
The one flaw in that Miami roster was the lack of an interior presence. Chris Bosh was certainly a good scorer, but he is a power forward, not a center. This hole was really exposed with a bigger and stronger San Antonio team this past season, and teams looking to build to beat the LeBron’s new look Cavaliers should look to them as a blue print.
When LeBron chose to return to Cleveland, he instantly formed one of the better duos in the league with point guard Kyrie Irving. With that combo, the Cavs still had a hole up front, relying on Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao. With the addition of Love, Cleveland attempted to address that issue. What they got is a bonafide scorer who can virtually score from anywhere on the court. What Cleveland didn’t receive was any semblance of defense up front.
This past season, Love was a top 5 worst interior defender in the entire league. Measuring the field goal percentage of shots taken from 1-5 feet against a player, opponents shot 57.4% against Love. One of the two worse defenders is his future teammate Tristan Thompson (59.1%). Too often does Love leave his man open to be in position to get another rebound. He has atrocious foot speed and routinely gets beat in the pick and roll. And it’s not like it’s a secret that he is awful on defense, just ask former Knick Tyson Chandler himself.
Of course I am not saying Kevin Love is a bad player. He is an extremely talented individual and one of the top players in the NBA. Will he thrive in Cleveland? It’s hard to imagine a player not thriving while playing alongside LeBron James. Does he come with flaws? Absolutely and so does every NBA player. Love just happens to play for a team that will now be under the microscope for however long ESPN wants to talk about LeBron.
The point of the matter is that the Cleveland trade makes it even tougher on the Knicks to compete in the Eastern Conference. What the Knicks need to realize is that there is an Achilles heal to this Cavalier team: interior defense and offense. In 2015, the Knicks will have every opportunity in the world to exploit that weakness and finally build a team to compete with the best.