(Reuters) - Kevin Love has emerged as the player LeBron James yearned to see and the power forward could be a pivotal contributor for the Cleveland Cavaliers in their quest to repeat as NBA champions.
This season, Love has been more confident and assertive, flashing the form that made him a three-times All-Star in his initial NBA seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
On the eve of Thursday’s opener of the Finals against the Golden State Warriors, the 6-foot-10 (2.08 m) frontcourt man was asked what kind of player James had hoped he could become.
“He was about 30 pounds heavier and has a terrible haircut,” said Love, drawing laughs from reporters.
“No, I think he just means ... being assertive and just very confident on both sides of the ball in my movements.”
“Just continuing to have a can-do mindset throughout and having confidence in each and every one of us. It’s not just me, it’s everybody playing their best brand of basketball.”
Love was thought to be the critical third partner of a ‘Big Three’ in Cleveland with James and dynamic guard Kyrie Irving.
However, he battled injuries and at times struggled to establish his identity on the floor, often deferring to his explosive team mates and losing some of that assertiveness.
This season Love has stepped up, averaging 19 points a game, 2.5 more per contest than his previous two seasons. He has also improved in the postseason to a 17.2 points average against stingier playoff defenses.
Love is fired up for the unprecedented third successive Finals clash between the Warriors and the Cavaliers, and is comfortable with his role.
“Picking my spots, being assertive, as I mentioned, and just filling in the gaps where we know that ‘Bron, being our leader, and Kyrie are going to be special,” he said.
Still, he said everything revolved around James, one of the NBA’s all-time greats.
“He’s special in so many ways,” said Love. “But as far as his approach and his routine and just his relentlessness in chasing, that greatness is special to watch.
“We talk about guys setting the tone, he’s the best to do it. He’s our leader, and we follow him at all costs.”
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Ian Ransom