By Steven Keys

♫ “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do
Two can be as bad as one
It’s the loneliest number since the number one (“One” / Nilsson (‘67))” ♫

Every team’s got one.

He’s the guy (or gal (WNBA)) who tops his team in talent and on most nights tops the scoreboard, too. He attracts throngs of celebrity seekers, most of the camera shots and in the professional basketball ranks will rake in the biggest bucks.

He gets coach’s gaze for most the game and bears the responsibility of being the team leader on and off the court. When down, he picks ‘em up, when they’re hitting on all cylinders he keeps ‘em steady. That’s the expectation, anyway, of co-workers and brass. And he’s typically the go-to guy (gal) in the clutch. Swish!

He’s the #1.

But you don’t need to be a basketball aficionado to appreciate that in team sport, no #1 can carry a squad on their back for long, not Bill Russell nor Dirk Nowitski. To win a championship there must be skill at all positions, filled by both a capable cast of reserves coming off the bench and a stalwart set of starters to boot, and re-boot.

Most important of those leading men? The #2, of course.

.......Love.10.1.14.E.Drost.wc.thmEvery great #1 had a top-flight second, in compliment as a double-barreled bang of shooting or rebounding prowess, other times to fill the void, step into the breach when the main man has taken a tumble, gets the debilitating double-team or is just having one of those off games.

Like the superstar, the All-Star vice-admiral, as it were, has a great responsibility, maybe greater than the #1 because if he slips up more than once it’s a pretty good bet it’ll be ‘Sayonara, Sonny’ sometime soon. Scapegoat‘s must be hadd, especially those with digestible contracts.

A short list of some of the best NBA player tandems-in-terrific:

Bill Russell (#1) and Bob Cousy (#2), then John Havlicek;
Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, then Jerry and Wilt (#1);
Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Oscar Robertson;
Willis Reed and Dave DeBusschere (Walt Frazier (2.25));
Magic Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar (James Worthy);
Larry Bird and Robert Parrish (Kevin McHale);
Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler;
Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer;
Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen;
Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant (or vice versa);
Tim Duncan and Tony Parker (Manu Ginobili);
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (Chris Bosh);
Steve Curry and Klay Thompson

On occasion the #2 will resist his better-suited but somewhat subservient role as a 2d-in-Command, attempting to usurp the #1 (See; Westbrook & Durant (#1) (OKC)), keeping a team in quandary-land.

But typically, the issue concerns a clouding of the #2 spot by any number of other talented yet supporting cast members on the team.

......James.wc.1.25.15.E.Drost.thmbWithout that solidified #2 the team will never reach it’s true potential.

Such is the case in the Forest City.

We all know #1 on Cavs’ roster, though, LeBron James himself will forever be semi-shy about grasping firmly his role, believing too often ‘‘tis better to give (assists) than to receive.’

LeBron is a 6’8” 250 lbs. strong-as-an-ox power forward who nonetheless led the Cavaliers in total assists 2016 (514) and apg (6.8), though, point-guard Kyle Irving (249 (4.7)) suited for just 53 of Cavs’ contests. The game-averages speak loudly.

A top gun who readily shares the ball is very sweet, sensible sometimes, but not exactly enhancer of that championship-run, either, if done in consternation, misplaced sense of generosity or fear of failure.

Who then is Cavaliers’ #2? That’s an issue presently in flux and unless worked to wide satisfaction soon, potentially derailing of a championship run.

Thirteen-year NBA veteran J.R. Smith (12.4 / 1.7a / 2.8rb (2015-16)) would like to believe it is he who’s Cavs 2d-in-Command and James’ right hand man. This outlook may stem from his Knickerbockers stint (18.1 (2012-13 (NBA 6th-Man))). But like Stevie Wonder sang, ‘When you believe in things you don’t understand, then you suffer.’ And sometimes Earl Joseph tends to “suffer” realization he’s not #2, or #1, for that matter.

More troubling for Cleveland would be Mr. Irving believing he is in fact #2.

.....Irving&Singler.10.17.13.wc.E.Drost.thmNot because Kyle is not All-Star caliber. He is (x3) and led the way for Cavs in opening playoff round match against Detroit, pouring in 31 w/6 assists and 5 boards in their too-close-for-comfort win vs Detroit, 106-101. Because Irving is a point guard needed to set-up the score (See; M. Cheeks) and if too tied to swishery will tap team synergy.

Cleveland’s true #2: Kevin Love, the 6’10, 250 lbs, forward / center who unfortunately hasn’t been playing to that number often enough.

The 27-year old is counting on making this playoff run to it’s conclusion, his second attempt in Cavaliers uniform after suffering injury-exit in 1st-Rd of last season‘s post-regular play.

Kevin was top free-agent on the market two years back when his contract was set to end in Minnesota. Cleveland knew they wanted Kev and made early in-road and signed the 3-time All-Star to a deal which was extended last year.

On most any other team Love is #1, the prototypical soft-shooter touch who’ll bang inside for boards. Out of the same mold as Jerry Lucas, Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, Elvin Hayes, Jack Sikma, Charles Barkley and Dirk Nowitski. Big names all and big shoes to fill but Kevin’s played big enough in his NBA career (2008 (UCLA)) to at least slip ‘em on and walk around a bit.

Get Kevin to cut down on the tres and he might lace ‘em up (439 / 5.7 (‘15-16)).

The Santa Monica (CA) native, Oregon-reared (Lake Oswego) and UCLA matriculee gave up a #1 spot to join a Cavs team needing a #2 to tandem with James and get that title ring for himself and the city on the Great Lake Erie, a top priority for LeBron and owner Dan Gilbert.

.....Love.1.25.15.thm.wc.E.DrostThough James (#1) – Love (#2) pecking order was the likely plan but too often it has not been the reality in the 2015-16 Cavaliers’ campaign as other talented teammates seem all too eager to fill that key #2 slot. Nobody ever tried to move Scottie Pippen out his #2 spot and haven’t Kyle Thompson as yet.

Love’s certainly been playing with moxie enough. Making 93% of the regular slate in his two Cleveland tours (152 of 164) and an Assc’n leader in rebounds (9.9 / 762 (‘15-16)). The ORB is down a bit from Minnesota days and season total has been considerably higher (1112 (‘10-11)). Fair to write that different roster make-up and delegated duties (coach think) play a role there.

It’s the notable downward trend in his scoring average (16.0 (26.1 (‘13-14))) that red-flags and offers insight into why Cleveland may not be getting all it paid for.

Because scoring is interwoven with team play, it suggests his ‘mates are playing more of a role than expected in shaping Love’s play into a form that’s probably not as planned and not to Kev’s nor Cavaliers best advantage.

Love’s not being paid king’s ransom in Cleveland to be 3rd in team scoring, a guy who’s averaged 26 per, twice in his 8-year pro career.

Okay, Kev’s the #2, arguably, and not meeting expectation of that rank, how do you get him there? It’s one thing to be tabbed #2, it’s another to hold onto it.

.....Lue&Blatt.1.25.15.wc.thm.E.DrostSetting that pecking-order is not often verbalized with specificity, and for good reason, so Love must assert himself, make clear he wants the job, can carry it off through thick n’ thin (latter which’ll test everyone’s championship mettle), won‘t take kindly to usurpers and if succeeds gets good backing. Part of that process now means asking for the ball more often or, if necessary, demanding it.

The FG% is down to lowest in his career (.419) while FT% is one of his highest (.822). Anyone who’s played b-ball knows you’ve gotta’ shoot ‘em to make ‘em, not just to up the total but to find your rhythm, get in a groove (%). Feed the big man the ball more often and watch that average rise to a former rate.

And that’s where first-year head coach Tyronn Lue and LeBron play key roles.

Dishing out possessions (assists) is what James likes to do. I question the tack, believing that whenever this forceful figure gets the ball he aught keep it and take it strong to the hoop. Who’ll stop him? But “a rose is a rose,” as Gertrude Stein would’ve said. The die is cast. LeBron won’t change and can help Love, the team, by-way of his ‘assistance.’

Knowing your role is crucial when mining for the O’Brien metal.

.....straight_shooter.thmbSteven Keys
Straight-Shooter
Photo credit: K.Love, wc.cca, 11.21.14, K.Allison; Love, wc, E.Drost, 10.1.14; L.James, wc, E.Drost, 1.25.15; K.Irving-Singler, wc, 10.17.13, E.Drost; Love, wc, 1.25.15, E.Drost; Blatt-Lue, wc, 1.25.15, E.Drost; Straight-Shooter, produce-label.
Posted: 4.20.16 @ 7:16pm, edit 8:29 EST; Copyright © 2016

Filed under: NBA

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