In addition to being a top scorer, shooter, and rebounder, Kevin Love is one of the most underrated passing big men in the NBA.
His signature pass — an outlet pass that he throws from under his own basket to a streaking teammate on the other end of the court — has been on full display since he joined LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer.
After a Dick’s Sporting Goods Holiday Hoops program, where Love donated two basketball hoops to an elementary school, the Cavs star talked to Business Insider about his passing game and how he uses outlet passes to set up LeBron for easy buckets.
Love grew up playing baseball and wanted to play football before his father planted him on a basketball court, he says.
With that background, he developed an ability to hit teammates in stride from 50 feet away.
He described throwing outlet passes in the NBA as, “my way of playing quarterback.”
Two examples from 2014:
Love told BI that sometimes these types of plays are planned but they’re mostly spur of the moment.
“In some cases we plan it — it’s mostly off of a free throw. If I see guys not back [on defence], I’m gonna try to create an opportunity for us. Whether it’s a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 situation. But most of the times it just comes down to me getting a rebound and those guys leaking out.”
Regardless of whether it is pre-planned, it takes a high level of on-court communication and anticipation to pull this play off. Love has to know where every opponent is on the court so he knows where to throw the pass, and his teammate has to beat the defence down the court.
Here’s a perfect example of how the outlet pass works from the Cavs-Spurs game.
When the shot goes up, Love is in good rebounding position and James is already leaking out on the perimeter in anticipation of a missed shot:
After the Spurs miss, Love collects the rebound and heaves it full court to a sprinting LeBron:
According to Love, his teammates are free to sprint down the court because they know he won’t put them in danger by throwing a pass into a defender who can take a charge.
“I’ll tell them ahead of time, I’m not gonna put them into a bad spot if I’m throwing it up the floor to them. So, if there’s somebody in front of them or another player in front of them who’s going to be able to steal the ball or take a charge [I won’t throw it].”
On this particular pass, Love had to lob the ball over the 7-foot-tall Tim Duncan, but LeBron had a clear path to the basket on the other side:
It resulted in an easy lay-up:
Love said his passes are particularly effective this year because LeBron and Kyrie Irving are such good finishers.
“With a guy like Kyrie Irving or LeBron James who has a head of steam, it’s tough to stop them or stay in front of them without fouling and allowing us to score,” Love said. “So it’s just something I’ve always done throughout the years, especially this year. We have athletes that can make plays on the break.”
Love noted that there’s “a certain rhythm to it,” like shooting, where he’s in the groove and knows he can make the pass.
“I guess going all the way back to saying I wanted to be a pitcher and even play football, that’s my way of playing quarterback.”
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