There is something so robotic about the way Kevin Love shoots a 3-pointer. His legs act like giant pistons as he crouches down to power up for the shot. His back stays straight and rigid as a sheet of metal. His right shooting elbow takes on protractor-like precision with the 90-degree angle it assumes as he lines up his trajectory. His wrist re-creates a lever-and-pulley-like system with every snap of his release.
It's a shot that wouldn't be described as fluid -- an adjective frequently attached to the jumper of Golden State's Stephen Curry, considered the best shooter in the game today -- but it certainly is effective.
And it's a major part of Love's arsenal.
"It's definitely changed my game and how defenses play me," Love said. "You know it's something that coaches, whether it's been Rick [Adelman] or Coach [David] Blatt or the assistant coaches we've had, they've told me to hunt that line because it's just so hard to guard now. I mean, you see it especially with stretch 4s now and the European influence over the game the last 15, 20, 25 years, if you're a 4-man or a 5-man and you can shoot out there, you're a valuable commodity."
As much as Love has transformed his body since he came into the league -- from a round, 260-pound 19-year-old to the lean, 243-pound 26-year-old he is today -- he also has tinkered with his approach to the game. Love attempted 19 3-pointers in his entire rookie season with the Timberwolves in 2008-09, making two. Contrast that with last season, when he had seven games in which he shot at least 10 3s en route to launching the sixth-most attempts in the NBA from long range.
Love was tied for eighth with Toronto's Kyle Lowry for most 3-pointers made last season, netting 190 in 77 games. He was the only power forward or center to rank in the top 20 in the league in that category.
Despite the Cleveland Cavaliers' early-season struggles heading into Friday's game against the Denver Nuggets (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET), Love's outside shooting has been as sharp as ever. Through the Cavs' first four games, he is 10-for-25 from 3 (40 percent), with his average of 6.3 attempts per game right on pace with the 6.6 per game he hoisted last season as the No. 1 option in Minnesota.
"Watching him, he really does a great job of shot preparation before he [receives the pass], getting his legs and knees bent and flexed and so forth," said noted shot doctor Dave Hopla.
Love said he honed his stroke over the years by watching the usual suspects.
"Oh, I mean, listen, it's easy to say Larry Bird, but that's not easy to do," Love said. "I loved watching Dirk [Nowitzki]. Even [Tim] Duncan and KG [Kevin Garnett]; I know those guys are all 7-footers, but those are guys that -- whether it was Duncan's bank shot, whether it was the 15-17 footers that Garnett always hit way up here, Dirk transition 3s, the fadeaways -- those are guys that I looked at and tried to model my game after. And also my dad as well could really shoot it at his size back when guys weren't really supposed to go out there and shoot."
" I never liked the 3-point shot. ... I always liked to be around the basket and I never really practiced 3-point shots. But if you look at how the game is played today, you would have to do that."Larry Bird
Bird and Nowitzki, in particular, come to mind when putting together a short list of the best outside shooters who traditionally have played a frontcourt position. Bird was a 37.6 percent 3-point shooter for his career; Nowitzki is at 38.3 percent; and Love lags behind them both ever so slightly at 36.3 percent -- and both see Love as in their class already.
"He shoots the 3 with ease," Nowitzki said. "I watched his last year in college and I thought he was a decent player. I didn't think he was going to develop into all that. He just took his game to another level. Unbelievable rebounder. He's not even that big. He's what, 6-9? But he's got unbelievable lower-body strength and always gets great position.
"I feel like his leg strength and his upper-body strength helps him on his 3 because it looks so easy. He shoots it effortlessly. He shoots a step-back going left, and a step-back 3 is really tough to shoot in this league, but he makes it look easy. So, yeah, he's definitely up there."
Said Bird: "Kevin Love is a double-double animal, everybody knows that. But anytime you can throw in a little niche as far as shooting the 3-point shot, that just gives other players opportunity to do what they can do best."
Despite his reputation as an assassin from beyond the arc, Bird preferred to play in the post. The most 3s Bird ever attempted in a season during his 13-year career was 237. Love launched 505 last season.
"I never liked the 3-point shot," Bird said. "I thought it was a low-percentage shot. But we took enough just to keep the defense honest. You know, we had [Kevin] McHale and [Robert] Parish. But in saying that, the game has changed. Myself, I always liked to be around the basket and I never really practiced 3-point shots. But if you look at how the game is played today, you would have to do that. You would have to extend the defense. You would have to spread the court on them, and I probably would take a lot more. I don't know if I'd take 500, but you'd have to take three or four a game, maybe, just to keep the defense honest."
The NBA didn't even have a 3-point shot until Bird's rookie season in 1979-80. Bird's teammate, Chris Ford, connected on one of the first made 3s in league history.
"I remember it," Bird said with a laugh. "And at that time, we thought that Chris was probably the only guy that was going to shoot any 3s."
The Celtics attempted 422 3s as a team that season, less than Love's personal total in 2013-14 and far less than Minnesota's team total (1,757).
"It just wasn't really a part of our game," Bird said. "Our thing was just keep pounding on the inside and try to get the ball to our big guys and get to the line. But it's amazing how the game has changed where now, teams can shoot 30 to 35 a game ...
"Now, if you shot 36-40 percent from there, it's better than taking a 2-pointer."
For Love, his challenge is being judicious about how much to use his 3-point shot.
"That's something for me that I've tried to implement in my game and also be valuable but not fall in love with it too much," Love said. "I just try to go out there and do my job but also know that at the end of the day where I'm going to make my money is also rebounding the basketball.
"Rebounding is a stat that I always look at that I always want to get 10-plus a game because I feel like that can help a team win when I'm not necessarily shooting it well."
Because of how Love affects the game in ways other than his shooting, LeBron James doesn't want to classify him among the best shooters he has ever played with regardless of position.
"It's different," James said. "Those guys are made to be marksmen, and it's a different type of shooter. You put Kevin Love with, like, Chris Bosh. Those guys shoot the ball extremely well and when you leave them open they'll take advantage of it, but they also do other things as well. But you have Mike Miller and Ray Allen and James Jones, those guys were born to be marksmen, so it's a different class."
Miller was quick to welcome Love among the shooting elite, however.
"In the growth of his game, that's the biggest thing I see," Miller said. "Because he's always had unbelievable outlet passes. He's always been a great rebounder and a knack scorer, but his outside shooting, to be able to stretch the floor and being a 40-plus 3-point shooter from out there, makes him one of the hardest guards. And that's why there's so many unique and different things that we can do offensively because he does that."