Love's passing interest stems from his early days

Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers grabbing a rebound against the Boston Celtics. His rebounds are a key factor in the trademark long passes to his team-mates.
Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers grabbing a rebound against the Boston Celtics. His rebounds are a key factor in the trademark long passes to his team-mates.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CLEVELAND • Whenever Kevin Love grabs a defensive rebound, he goes through a series of calculations.

First, he spins to look towards the opposite basket. Are any of his Cleveland Cavaliers team-mates ahead of the defence?

If LeBron James has his hand up, for example, that is an instant cue for Love to make one of his favourite plays - the long outlet pass.

"If I see LeBron with any sort of advantage," Love said, "I'm going to throw it."

If James is being guarded, then Love continues with his mental checklist.

Starting from the far end of the court, he searches for the next available team-mate - essentially a process of elimination.

He likes to throw to Kyrie Irving near mid-court, so that the Cavs point guard can use his dribbling skills to create offence against disorganised defenders.

Above all, Irving and the team's other guards know they should resist the urge to come back for the ball, at least when Love, a 2.08m power forward, has it.

He prefers to lead them with his two-handed chest passes, a rare and sometimes overlooked advantage for a team who want easy baskets in transition.

"I've never seen an outlet passer like Kevin Love, except when I was a kid watching Wes Unseld play," Cavaliers coach David Blatt said.

It is no coincidence. The roots of Love's ability to throw the ball 22m down the court, with a mix of precision and velocity, can be traced to his father, Stan Love, and specifically to the two seasons Stan spent playing alongside Unseld with the Baltimore Bullets in the early 1970s.

Unseld, a 2m centre, was an exceptional outlet passer, and his team-mates - Stan among them - benefited from his largesse.

The same has been true of the Cavaliers. The mere threat of Love connecting with team-mates on court-length passes is an ever-present danger for opponents.

Even before he could shoot the ball with good form, Love learnt as a child how to throw a solid outlet pass. It was inside knowledge passed down from his father, who would tape targets on walls so that Love could throw chest pass after chest pass.

He also did exercises designed to strengthen his hands and wrists, the effects of which have lingered.

"Strong, strong hands," said Rob McClanaghan, Love's trainer. "I think that's a major key here. He was doing finger-tip push-ups with his dad going back to his youth days."

McClanaghan cited another important factor: Love's standing as one of the top rebounders in the league.

"If you can't get a rebound, there's no outlet pass," he said. "It's all tied together."

Love, who is averaging 17.1 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists for the Cavaliers this season, said he actually grew up shooting with two hands, as if he were throwing a chest pass.

It was not until he was 10 or 11, he said, when he spent an entire summer practising proper shooting mechanics, that he ditched his improvised form. But the chest pass remained his foundation.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2015, with the headline 'Love's passing interest stems from his early days'. Print Edition | Subscribe