Langston Love: The Big 12's Best Freshman

What's Baylor getting in the freshman guard?

Montverde Academy (Fla.) has become a powerhouse in the prep basketball industry over the past decade. Kevin Boyle, its head coach, has won five Geico National Championships since taking over under the helm in 2011. He installed a college-like program, aiming to help players prepare for college. Montverde has top-of-the-line facilities, coaches and nutritionists with tuition costing a mere 50,000 dollars annually for students. In 2020, the Eagles went undefeated (25-0) led by Cade Cunnigham, Scottie Barnes, Moses Moody, and Day’Ron Sharpe — four 2021 first-round NBA Draft picks. Caleb Houstan (Michigan freshman) and Dariq Whitehead (Five-star 2022 recruit) will likely follow suit in the next two drafts. One of the roster’s key contributors is receiving less buzz than the rest, introducing Baylor’s 6-4 freshman guard, Langston Love. Here’s what makes him the Big 12’s top freshman:

Background

Love grew up 15 miles from San Antonio in Universal City, Texas. He attended Steele High School before transferring to Montverde for his final two seasons. In 2021, Love averaged 12.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in roughly 20 minutes per game. He put together efficient 51-38-85 shooting splits (equaling 79-percent true-shooting). 

Love committed to Baylor in July of 2020 over the likes of Stanford and Texas. He is ranked as a four-star prospect across the three major recruiting services (ESPN: No. 28, 247Sports: No. 40, Rivals: No. 56). This summer, Love was one of 26 players to be invited to the United States’ training camp in preparation for the U19 World Cup in Latvia. But he was shortly cut before the roster trimmed down to 12 names.

Leveraging your strengths

At 202 pounds, Love makes up for his lack of elite burst by using his toughness and decision-making skills to get into the paint. He relies on generating strong positioning and matchups compared to his fellow Baylor teammate, Kendall Brown, who can blow by anyone with ease. Love sticks to his strengths to create advantages, capitalizing on subtle mistakes. He’s more of a finesse driver as one who makes decisions with precision vs. the inverse, explosion. Uber-athletes of Brown’s archetype have their draw, but they’re often turnover-prone/force actions into traffic. Love committed just 0.7 turnovers (14 turnovers to 32 assists) per game on the season. Being able to keep a defender on his hip heading downhill is one of his best micro-skills. He has a strong center of gravity and lower body flexibility on drives.

Love uses an effective pump-fake to get his defender leaning, then keeps him behind his back to deny a potential shot contest on the floater. This is stellar processing for a 19-year-old who already knows how to reach his hot spots on the court. 

Love’s ball control is put on notice here when he makes a powerful driver and brings the ball close to his body. He absorbs contact well at the rim but favors the right hand on finishes. Improving the left hand will be vital for his development, we’ll take another look at this in a later section.

What you notice with Love is he rarely blows past a defender or plays above the rim. He simply drives his hip into the defender and rotates his body to hit a contested mid-range shot. These are not ‘flashy’ highlights, but his feel for the game is evident. There’s another area where he proves that statement: being a plug-in-play guy.

Love has played a backseat role as a rotation piece in his time at Montverde. Many of his shot attempts come off screens (pin-downs), spot-ups, and drives from the wing. Love is scalable in many contexts due to his budding two-way package. There’s a lot to like from a player with his bulkier physical profile, length (+4-5 wingspan), and off-ball scoring.

Houstan sets a down screen on the left and Love uses it to step into a movement shot above the free-throw line. A tough, but good shot. 

How’s the shooting package stack up?

Shooting is the most important skill to track in Love’s development. He’s got the foundation of a fluid shot — excellent shot preparation, selection, and high release. Love also shoots a high clip from the free-throw line and a reasonable one (38-percent) from three. But there are still some tweaks that need to be honed in on.

Francesco Semprucci, of RollCallSports, gave his input on Love’s shot: He isn't broke but there are some micro-errors. The knees are a bit valgus, when he transfers the ball from the dip to his set point the ball is too far away from his body, the left hand is a bit too over the ball. But the major issue is the lower body, the power transfer isn't excellent, one foot seems to push more than the other one and the legs go everywhere. He reminds me a bit of [Deni] Avdija pre-NBA lower body form.”

You can see some similarities in their hip to toes. The inconsistencies are a bit strange with Love having a strong lower body. He needs to establish more balance in the knees and control the springy feet.

Here’s a different look on a pull-up jumper out of the pick-and-roll. His base is more balanced, but the gather is a bit unique. Love brings the ball from his left hip to the center of his body but still manages to do the movement rather quickly. There’s not much to worry about on this front if he still reaches his ‘set point’ on time. 

Free-throw production is a key indicator for a player’s shooting translation. Outside of a few outliers, Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan, the NBA’s Top-50 free-throw shooters were all above-average outside threats. Love’s volume was low in 2021, but the numbers are promising. He improved from a 66-percent free-throw shooter as a freshman (41 of 62) to 85-percent (23 of 27) as a senior. When analyzing the shot, the motion + base are much smoother. Especially from the starting to the set point.

Now, let’s talk about his biggest strength as a shooter, movement two’s. Love doesn’t have to rely on lower body explosion inside the 3-point line. Those skills previously mentioned (shot prep, balance, and selection) all contribute to his ability to be a ‘mid-range maestro.’ Baylor head coach, Scott Drew, is a big enthusiast of the long ball. He also preaches the importance of getting quality shots. The Bears were the nation’s best 3-point shooting team last season (42-percent) because of their willingness to take good looks, even if it’s from two. Love fits that mold as a player who makes solid decisions and sticks to his role on the court.

Keying in on the improvement areas

Love doesn’t yield many playmaking opportunities as an off-guard. Most of his passes are reactive reads (making decisions based on what happens) compared to French guard Matthew Strazel, a projected 2022 second-rounder, who can make proactive live-ball passes.

Don’t get this twisted: I’m not suggesting Love can’t make reads off a handoff or pick-and-roll but the sample is extremely limited. He was not asked to be a primary or even a secondary facilitator alongside Ryan Nembhard, Houstan, and Whitehead. Many of his opportunities came in the flow of the offense (i.e. ball reversals, cutters, and dump-off passes to bigs). Although, he doesn’t make many mistakes and excelled in this role. 

Here’s an ‘eye popping’ moment from Love. He puts the defender in jail before slide stepping into an open look from the free-throw line. Love gets the post defender to bite for the shot-fake leaving Jalen Duren open for a layup. Many flashes in this possession garner intrigue - pace, stays low on the drive, feel, and court vision. Expanding his game will only make him more dynamic, but the question is when… Year 1? Year 2?

We mentioned this previously, but Love needs to develop his off-hand. He often attempts to switch to his right hand on left-sided rim finishes, causing him to take weird angles for a shot. His comfortability is evident on the right side of the basket, let’s take this possession for example:

Love displays terrific poise against a switch, hitting a short, well-positioned floater over a taller defender. Now, watch this one:

Love’s body was facing the Montverde bench on this rim attempt. He would’ve been able to explode into his defender for a more favorable position or foul if the left hand was more reliable. Big 12 teams will attempt to force him left for this reason. 

Our discussion has been centered around his offense to this point. So the defense: Love has long arms - propelling his ability to do a little bit of everything. He strives as a help-defender on the nail, making timely rotations, and causing havoc in the passing lanes. 

Love’s positional versatility ranges from bigger ones to smaller threes. As he often becomes ‘heavy-footed’ and struggles to turn his hips against quicker guards. Love is a viable option though - making strong recoveries and closeouts due to his length.

His strengths on the defensive end mesh well with Baylor’s ‘No Middle’ scheme. The goal is to limit paint touches and kick-out threes. It uses a scram defensive strategy to keep the opposition on its toes - force turnovers/errors. To do so, perimeter players will ice the ball-handler, forcing him baseline (away from the paint). This requires constant communication and fluid rotations onto shooters. This should cover up some of Love’s weak spots. Jordan Sperber, of Hoop Vision, does a complete breakdown on the concept.

Let’s make projections

Baylor lost its top three scorers, Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, and MaCio Teague, after a national championship victory. A writer for FanSided, Andrew Tineo, published an article projecting their depth chart for the 2021-22 season. Arizona transfer James Akinjo and returning sharpshooter Adam Flagler are starting the backcourt, while sophomore LJ Cryer and Love back them up. Tineo expects Love to receive more minutes than Cryer did last season (10.0 per game). Love will crack the rotation due to his seamless fit as a 3-and-D esc player.

Rough statistical projections: 20.2 minutes, 8.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 46-percent from the field, 34-percent from 3-point, and 76-percent from the line.

Here’s four other players in contention for the Big 12’s Freshman of the Year award: Tyrese Hunter (Iowa State), Jaylon Tyson (Texas), and CJ Noland (Oklahoma), and Brown. I’d argue Love is the best of the bunch.

Love is not included on mainstream way-too-early 2022 draft boards, such as ESPN and Bleacher Report. Many see him as a multi-year college player with pro upside in the future, but I feel he could exceed that timeline. Love’s feel for the game, off-ball skillset, and length are all top of his class. Despite our critiques of his shot, I’d be surprised if he’s not a respectable or better shooter. 

Moody, a lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, was a former teammate of Love where the two share similarities coming out of high school. Moody wasn’t asked to do a lot of shot creation at Montverde with most of his shots coming on spot-ups. Like Love, he’s not known for his vertical pop and uses a 7-1 wingspan to make up for it. The difference being Love will be a role player at Baylor while Moody grew as the focal point for a talented Arkansas team. This begs the question - Is Langston Love this year’s, Moses Moody? Let’s wait and see.