What is Love?
Caleb Love has had a roller coaster college career, including his 2022 NCAA Tournament with some incredible and some forgettable games. It begs the question: which one is the real Caleb Love?
Caleb Love is one of the more polarizing draft prospects for many reasons, but his inconsistency/inefficiency is chief among them. There is no denying that he is one of the most talented scorers in college basketball, but you just don’t know what Caleb Love is showing up to each possession, let alone each game.
As Forrest Gump would say:
As NBA Front Offices build their draft boards, this will probably be the biggest question mark they have for Caleb Love. This is a guy who absolutely took over both the UCLA and Duke games for UNC in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 58 points on 22-of-44 (50%) from the field. However, in the other four games of the tournament, Love scored just 55 points on 18-of-62 (29%) from the field. The former Caleb Love is a lottery pick, while the latter is not draftable.
This begs the question on the minds of every NBA Front Office: “What is Love?”
And just like the lyrics go in Haddaway’s 1993 smash hit with the same title, they will hope selecting Caleb Love will not “hurt them.”
To dive a little deeper into what I mean regarding his inconsistent play, I want to revisit what I think was his best performance of the season, actually—the Final Four matchup vs. Duke. Even in a game where he was great, we didn’t really see that greatness until the second half. He put up 22 of his 28 points in that second half, and many of them were late clutch baskets and free throws to secure the momentous victory over their arch-rival, sending Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to an early retirement. So what exactly does Caleb Love need to improve on in order to ensure that the second half version of him shows up more often? Let’s dive into the tape to find out.
Low Hanging Fruit
The biggest, and possibly easiest, thing to improve on for Caleb Love is shot selection. Early in the first half against Duke, every shot he took was a jumper he settled for, often early in the shot clock. While Love certainly has the ability to knock these down, that doesn’t mean they are always the best shots to take.
In each of the attempts in the above video, Love’s shot comes with around half, or more, of the shot clock remaining. There’s nothing wrong with playing up-tempo, but that should not come at the expense of inefficient shot attempts. It would have been wise in each scenario to be more patient and reset to try and get a more advantageous look. When you have Caleb Love’s shot creation ability, you can get a step-back jumper off whenever you want. You do not need to let it fly the first chance you get.
Things started to turn for Love in the first half because he started to attack the basket instead of settling for the contested jumpers.
These buckets were not just crucial to him finding his groove but also for UNC as they gained momentum heading into the second half when Caleb Love jumped out of the gate early and took over. It was a mix of jumpers, rim attempts, and floaters.
You can easily see that he settled in after a rocky start and regained his confidence. Caleb Love is at his best when he is exhibiting his three-level scoring ability and not just taking jumpers. When the defense has to respect his entire scoring arsenal, it’s easy for him to pick them apart and take over games. We also saw this at the very end of the game as well.
Each of these baskets came in a one-point game and, again, included him being a versatile scorer driving the ball and hitting a dagger three-pointer to put UNC up four with under 30-seconds remaining. That’s without mentioning the free throws at the end of the game to seal it.
There’s no doubt that there are other things Caleb Love will need to improve on in order to reach his full potential, but just getting the right shot diet is the first and most crucial step.
I am not a huge fan of player comparisons; however, if Caleb Love fixes his shot diet, I don’t think it’s too crazy to see him one day having an impact in the NBA similar to what we are seeing from Jordan Poole. Both guys had their struggles with consistency in college, but there was no denying the shot creation and shot-making ability. The confidence also never wanes with these two guys. Jordan Poole was a much better scorer inside the arc than Caleb Love is right now, but again that comes back to shot diet, and that should improve with more rim attempts and less settling for long two’s. I’m not saying these two guys are the same player, or that Caleb Love will drop 30+ points in playoff games, but more so that you shouldn’t give up on talented scorers so early. Coming out of college, I don’t think anyone expected Poole to be leading the Warriors to playoff victories in year three. Hell, I don’t think anyone expected that coming into this season or these playoffs! You just never know when and if everything will click with these talented scoring prospects, and that’s what makes them the toughest evaluations for me.
As of writing this article, Caleb Love has yet to make a decision regarding declaring for the draft or heading back to college. We should hear something in the coming weeks, but it does appear that his fellow UNC brethren are hoping to bring the band back for one more run. I could see him choosing either path. In my opinion, he has shown enough of the upside and scoring ability that NBA front offices drool over, but on the other hand, it shows up less often than you’d like. It all boils down to who you think the real Caleb Love is: the one who dominated against Duke and took over the second half, or the one who was inconsistent and started slowly in the first half? I lean towards the former. If he ends up declaring and staying in the 2022 NBA Draft, I would feel comfortable selecting him somewhere in the early-mid second round. However, if he comes back and shows more consistent play and leads UNC into another deep tournament run, the sky's the limit for this kid.
Considering Love’s uneven play and talent, I’d recommend another year in the college program, where he will certainly have improved draft position. Excellent piece Alex!