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Cavs Plots: The Cavaliers Big 3 are carrying an impressive burden

Visualizing scoring versus the rest of the box score for the NBA’s best teams

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Cavaliers lost for the sixth time this season on a back-to-back in Memphis. Without Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, or LeBron James in the lineup, the Cavaliers scored just 85 points on 28-75 shooting, the team’s lowest shooting percentage of the season. Together, Love, Irving, and James are averaging 68.8 points per game for the Cavs and so it is understandable without over half the offense that the team struggled.

It’s been clear through the first quarter of the season that the Cavaliers will look to their big three to carry this team through the regular season and much of the playoffs. And while a 19-6 team in first place in the East offers little to critique, the one weakness for the team going forward may be a lack of scoring in their rotation beyond the first three. JR Smith is averaging his worst three point shooting percentage of his career, and other role players like Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, and Iman Shumpert can only do so much.

Following an interesting concern from Ian Levy about ex-Cavalier, Andrew Wiggins (see below). I thought that his XY-coordinate, points per 100 possessions versus everything else per 100 possessions, would be a unique way to look at the Cavaliers roster through the first quarter as well as some of the other top players and teams in the NBA.

(Note: Kyrie Irving and LeBron James co-ownership of the upper right quadrant).

Here is the full NBA player universe per 100 possessions as of 10 PM on December 14, 2016 (courtesy of bball ref). Players were filtered by 10 minutes per game so as to include some of the bench players. The “All Else” x-axis is a sum of total rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals per 100 possessions.

A few interesting points to note:

  • Russell Westbrook, a player still averaging a triple double per game, is an owner of the most points and “all else” per 100 possessions. Not very surprising.
  • Most of the players in the upper right quadrant, especially towards the corner, fit the mold of All-Stars on underperforming teams (DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid) or players carrying their teams (Westbrook, James Harden, John Wall, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant).
  • Ignore Nerlens Noel, who has just 10 MP on the season.
  • There is a decent cluster of score-first players at the median line of all else between 35 and 40 points per 100 possessions (Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams, Damian Lillard, Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, and Kyrie Irving). Although Kyrie is a bit of a stretch for the group at 12.3 in “All Else”

Cleveland Cavaliers

Irving leads the team (slightly) in points but is below the median for “all else,” while James and Kevin Love are above the 20/20 mark. Some of this is to be expected from their role in the front court and James pass-heavy style to start 2016.

Golden State Warriors

Golden State has just one player in the 20/20 club, Durant but has clearly defined roles for Green with 27 under “all else” and Curry with 35+ points per 100 possessions.

San Antonio Spurs

Kawhi fits that mold elite scorer, average in everything else, but this plot is surprisingly un-Spurs like with the next player 10 points per possession lower. Which appears to be a trend with some of these next few teams.

Houston Rockets

Appreciate James Harden, but also note the rise of Clint Capela. The Rockets are 19-7 and yet his next best offensive player, Eric Gordon, is almost 10 points per possession lower and provides not much else.

Los Angeles Clippers

Marreese Speights place in the 20/20 club should really speak to some of the limitations of this exercise but also to his role for the Clippers. He’s averaging 9 points and 5 rebounds in 15 minutes a game. The graph highlights almost inverse of the Cavaliers big three where they have two starters in the in 20/20 club and a third with average scoring but 24+ “all else”. The addition of Redick and Crawford above 20 points per possession highlights on of the better teams with a lot of scoring options.

Toronto Raptors

Along with the Rockets, the Raptors appear to have a unique scoring distribution where there is a 10 point gap in points per poss between DeRozan and Lowry. Terrence Ross continues to be an interesting wrinkle with over 25 points per 100 possessions and almost nothing else.

The key take away: Cavaliers have some of the best scoring players in the league, three players averaging over 30 points per 100 possessions. The only other team to match this is Golden State. Although a top heavy box score may be concerning for a defensive team that can game plan away one ore more of those options, the remaining contenders in the NBA have don’t quite have better options than the Cavs.