The Cavs playbook often features simple pick and roll actions to create switches and exploit matchup advantages for either LeBron James or Kyrie Irving. In addition to quick ISO Post-Ups for Kevin Love (often in the first quarter), this makes up the bulk of the Cavs halfcourt offense.
But sometimes, Tyronn Lue reaches into his bag of tricks and shows more intricate set plays that often result in buckets.
Before the Cavs enter the playoffs, I wanted to break down some of the sets they use most frequently. The goal is for fans to be able to recognize the actions as they happen in games and understand the possible options off of each set.
The Main Sets
The set the Cavs deploy most often with any grouping of personnel is “Elbow.”
This look begins with the point guard entering the ball to LeBron stationed at one elbow. The point guard then goes to set a down screen—which ends up looking more like a cross screen—for the man in the corner.
The first option out of this set is to get the ball to the man (usually Kevin Love or Richard Jefferson) cutting off the screen for a layup.
If that fails, the guard then has the option of flaring to the wing for a three if his man sticks with the cutting big to prevent a layup. J.R. Smith did this effectively against Indiana on a key possession in double overtime.
When the screen setter is more of a ball-handler than shooter (usually Deron Williams), he can also come up top to receive a hand-off from LeBron.
LeBron then has the option to fade:
Or roll to the basket:
This set is the one the Cavs have most frequently deployed since the acquisitions of Williams and Kyle Korver. The four potential options off the action are depicted below:
One note: The Cavs have also used a similar set-up this season to run “UCLA Seal,” an old staple of the Popovich-Duncan playbook. This play produced some mind-blowing touch passes from LeBron at the elbow.
HORNS POINT AWAY
The Cavs use their second most common set almost exclusively when the LeBron + Bench unit is on the floor. Fans may remember this devastating action from the vast confusion it caused the Toronto Raptors in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.
As with “Elbow,” the set begins with the point guard entering the ball to LeBron at the elbow. The point guard then acts like he is going to cut through to the opposite corner before turning around and setting a back-screen for the Cavalier stationed at the opposite elbow.
Option 1: Lob
The initial look is for LeBron to throw the lob off of the back-screen. This pass has made for a few additions to not-so old-man Richard Jefferson’s highlight tape, including this dunk over Frank Kaminsky:
The presence of Kyle Korver in the opposite corner on this set is no mistake. Take even a half step away from Korver (66.7 percent as a Cav from the left corner) or Channing Frye (48.6 percent) and LeBron will find them for three:
Option 2: Pop for 3
When defenders hedge down to stop the lob, the point guard is often open to pop for three. This shot is incredibly important for Deron Williams - who has only attempted 34 threes since signing with the Cavs - and is 3-9 from the top of the arc.
Option 3: Handoff
The Cavs’ most used option off HORNS Point Guard Away is “Handoff,” where the point guard curls around LeBron into a pick and roll. This look is set up to catch the defense in a scramble after trying to prevent the lob.
The goal is for the man guarding the point guard to be trailing his cut as he accepts the handoff. This creates a difficult decision for the defense--switch and create an impossible mismatch against LeBron in the post or hedge and give up a jumper or watch LeBron dunk:
I have been advocating for some time for Deron Williams to get more comfortable turning the corner into a floater or lob to LeBron rather than a bounce pass.
Williams has only taken 9 floaters since joining the Cavs, a stark contrast from Delly’s preferred shot in the same role last season.
This play was unstoppable in last year’s postseason and could play a large role for the LeBron + Bench unit this year as well. An overview of the action:
A trend that has been sweeping the league this season is “Spain Pick and Roll,” an ode to the Spanish National Team. Mike D’Antoni and Quin Snyder have both used the set frequently and the Cavs appear to have added it to the playbook recently.
The basic action involves a “screen the screener” look where a big man (Tristan Thompson) sets an initial screen and a guard (JR Smith) then screens Tristan’s defender to enable a free roll to the basket. Smith then pops to the 3-point line.
Fail to properly hedge the second pick and LeBron has a free lane to the hoop:
More traditionally, Thompson is left open on the roll and Kevin Love remains stationed in the opposite corner ready to shoot - much like leaving a shooter on the backside in HORNS Point Guard Away.
Another play that looks similar to this set up is “Stagger Pop.” The Cavs put both big men on the backside and run a double ball screen for Kyrie with JR and LeBron. Smith pops to the three-point line while LeBron rolls and can potentially use this to post-up on his preferred left block:
HORNS DOUBLE HIGH
Another double screen look the Cavs run involves a wrinkle off of a Doc Rivers staple. Rivers typically has Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan set a high double ball screen for Chris Paul to create momentum coming downhill.
Here, Ty Lue has altered the set to use guards as screeners for LeBron, which creates a greater threat popping for three. Like most of the Cavs plays, a shooter in the opposite corner creates a difficult choice for defenses.
“Elbow Flex” or “HORNS Flex” is a common action across the NBA. Here, Kyrie enters to Love who throws an elbow-to-elbow pass to Thompson.
Irving sets a “Flex” (cross) screen for Smith, who can either continue across the paint or pop right back to the corner. Thompson then sets a down screen for Irving.
With this action, Lue looks to be drawing on some of the ways the Timberwolves used Kevin Love. Here, Love gets the ball on the elbow and Deron Williams sets a backscreen (similar to HORNS Point Guard Away) for LeBron.
Love hits LeBron for a layup, but you can easily envision the Cavs using this to get LeBron an ISO Post-Up as well.
The Cavs like to use “Iverson cuts” in their offense to create misdirection. After the Iverson cut moves the defense one way, the other player at the elbow fakes a ball screen.
But the goal is actually to get a three for one of the Cavs shooters. After the fake screen, that player (LeBron or Tristan here) continues on to set a down screen for an open shooter.
Here it is with LeBron + Bench:
But the starters can run it as well:
They say to save the best for last and my favorite Cavs action begins with another Iverson cut. The Cavs make it look like this will result in a simple pick and roll for Kyrie on the wing.
But, in another feat of misdirection, Thompson fakes the ball screen and instead screens for LeBron, who is curling for three.
Lue will almost certainly pull some new wrinkles out of the bag in the playoffs, but these sets have been a staple of the Cavs’ recent offense.
The overarching formula for many actions is creating mismatches with either back screens or handoffs while keeping a shooter in the opposite corner to make the defense make difficult decisions on the fly.