Former Fear the Sword site manager Conrad Kaczmarek, who now works for the NBA, still keeps a close eye on the Cleveland Cavaliers. The other night, one of his tweets caught my eye:
Through 3 preseason games, the Cavs are averaging 32.6 three point attempts. Rockets led league with 26.5 per game last season.— Conrad Kaczmarek (@ConradKazNBA) October 15, 2014
Since then, Cleveland played their fourth preseason game, knocking off the Indiana Pacers 98-93. In the process they attempted just 22 three-pointers, bringing their exhibition average all the way down to 30 per game... which is, of course, still an absurd rate.
Yes, it's the preseason, and yes, four games is a very small sample size. No grand predictions should be made or forecasts drastically altered based on less than 200 minutes of exhibition basketball played on two different continents and featuring only three NBA opponents. However, this time of the year is important to the coaching staff, who'd like to get the framework of the offense in place before the games start to count. Practice only means so much; there's no substitute for trying to execute plays against opponents doing everything they can to stop you.
It's clear the Cavaliers' offense will feature a lot of attempts from behind the arc; whether they come at a record-setting pace remains to be seen. Given the personnel, it makes sense. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Dion Waiters, Mike Miller, Matthew Dellavedova, and Shawn Marion - seven of the top eight players in Cleveland's rotation - range from being average to exceptional 3-point shooters. The first four exhibition games has given us a tiny glimpse into what it'll look like when they're all together.
So how is Cleveland racking up all these attempts? Are they jacking up shots, or are they coming within the flow of the offense? A close look at the team's likely 3-point-attempt leaders offers some clues.
At risk of becoming nothing more than a "Kevin Love is awesome" parrot, I'm going to go ahead and begin with the newest Cavalier's efforts through four preseason games. Love has made 59 percent of his 3-point attempts so far, which is pretty good I guess. He's also tied for second on the team with 17 outside tries.
Awhile back I wrote about transition threes at Hardwood Paroxysm, which is worth mentioning because Love's ability to saunter behind the defense and pick his spot for a catch-and-shoot three has definitely migrated with him from Minnesota. (You can see some video examples of what I mean here.) The Cavs also seem to have implemented a few corner action sets, which feature Love at the elbow, ready to pass to a cutter, waiting to handoff to someone or slipping out to the wing for a catch-and-shoot three.
There are a few new things I've noticed, however. Of Love's 17 shots from beyond the arc, seven have come in the corners. During his six seasons in Minnesota, fewer than 10 percent of Love's threes came from those coveted spots. It makes sense that playing with, um, slightly better teammates frees him up for more desirable looks, which could improve his efficiency. He's a career 42 percent shooter on corner tries, and this preseason, he's 4-of-7 from there.
Another new thing: slipping or fading on pick and rolls for catch and shoot 3-pointers. The Wolves ran these occasionally, but with LeBron as the ballhandler, this is probably going to be a regular (and effective) weapon, as James draws more attention than anyone in the league on drives. I mean, is this even fair?
This is a beautiful play to remember for the future: watch the way Love moves around inside, as well as the unspoken synergy with Anderson Varejao to abandon the paint, run to the corner, using the center as a shield for getting an open look from outside:
Playing with veterans like Varejao, Miller and Marion will help everyone on the roster. That kind of heady play isn't as easy or common as you might think.
And, of course, Love's capable doing crazy things from time to time:
Irving's been absent in three of the four games thus far. As a result, LeBron is serving as the primary ballhandler when he's on the floor and is often left as the shooter late in the shot clock when a set doesn't work well. He's still managed to hit 4-of-10 threes to this point, because he's the best player in the world, but it'll be interesting to see how things change when Kyrie can be the one pushing in transition or driving to the lane. That ought to free LeBron to trail behind the fastbreak or spot-up for a good look from the perimeter.
For now, he's left to deal with stuff like this, which is hardly horrible, but still less than ideal:
Irving shot 41 percent from the floor and 41 percent from three on pull-up shots a year ago; James was 35 percent and 31 percent, respectively, in those same situations. If Kyrie handles the "fire alarm" shots, LeBron's percentage will go up. And if Kyrie's on the floor, there will be even more opportunities for LeBron in transition or to spot up.
Speaking of Kyrie: all five of his attempts in the single game he played were of the catch and shoot variety. Last season, he made just 32 percent of catch and shoot three pointers, meaning he was much better off the bounce, which is pretty unusual, Most players are much better when they can catch in rhythm and fire away. The manner in which Irving accumulates his shots from deep (and how he performs on catch and shoot versus creating) will be an interesting thing to watch moving forward, because now that he plays with LeBron, it's probable he'll have more catch and shoot opportunities than the two per game he tallied a year ago.
While we're on the topic of off-the-bounce versus catch-and-shoot threes, let's discuss Dion Waiters. Last season he shot 42% on catch-and-shoot threes and 26 percent on pull up-threes. By my count, 12 of his 17 perimeter tries this preseason have come in catch-and-shoot situations while the other five have included dribbles or holding the ball while jab-stepping. Again, his catch-and-shoot opportunities will probably rise if he's on the floor with the starters, which will be better for him in the long run.
Waiters gets his fair share of criticism. Sometimes it's warranted, sometimes it isn't. Not every off-the-dribble shot is a bad one. If you're open, or if it's late in the shot clock, you have to hoist it up. But generally speaking...
This is what Dion ought to be doing:
It'll be up to the coaching staff and the Cleveland veterans to get him to buy into the system. This much is certain: he's got the shooting stroke and footwork to be very, very effective.
Delly leads the team in minutes this preseason, playing 109 minutes in four games. In that time, he's put up just 10 threes, nearly 25 percent lower than the rate he shot them at a year ago. He's taking threes when he's either open, wide open or freed up by a screen. He hasn't taken a single ill-advised perimeter shot this preseason, which shows he understands exactly where he stands:
Just how big a role the 24-year-old Aussie will play is probably a discussion for another time. If the preseason is any indication, he'll have open looks. Whether or not he can capitalize on them at a high rate will either hurt or help his case for a rotation spot.
Odds and Ends
- Mike Miller is just 2-for-10 from three-point range this preseason, but don't fret. The sun comes up, the sun goes down, the tides roll in and return to the sea, and Mike Miller hits threes when the bright lights are on. He's a transition sniper and a catch-and-shoot master. For him, these games matter for conditioning, not results.
- Marion attempted 2.4 threes per-36 minutes with Dallas last season. In 79 preseason minutes with Cleveland, he's put up a total of two. With as many other weapons as the Cavs have, he's concentrating on doing other things. A perusal of his career numbers reveals a guy who has both employed and abandoned the 3-point shot throughout his 15 seasons in the league. If Cleveland stays healthy, there's a chance this could be one of those years he just abandons it.
- The leader in preseason three-point attempts is rookie Joe Harris, who is taking them at an 8.2-per-36 minute clip and is sinking 35 percent of his tries. Not to be outdone among guys vying for roster spots, A.J. Price has nearly tripled his career clip by hoisting 9.4 threes per-36 minutes during exhibition play. It's apparent that the 3-point shooting mandate goes all the way to the end of the bench.
- In the introduction, I asked if the Cavaliers were hoisting three pointers indiscriminately or taking them within the flow of the offense. As far as I can tell, their prolific rate of outside shooting is by design. Coach David Blatt seems to have decided that if he's got the toys, he might as well play with them. While I'd be hesitant to declare anything regarding all-time records, I feel certain that Cleveland will be among the top teams in the league at taking and making shots from deep.