The Cavs had one of their most impressive weeks in years as they went 4-0. Here’s what we learned from a great week of basketball.
Darius Garland’s pull-up shooting is a weapon.
Garland’s pull-up three-point shooting is one of the reasons the Cavs’ offense was able to claw out close victories against the Blazers and Raptors. Garland hit five pull up threes on six attempts in those two games which went a long way in deciding those one possession games.
The third-year guard’s pull up three-point shooting has been an asset all season. Garland is shooting 45.5% on 4.1 pull up threes per game coming into Sunday’s game in New York. To put that in perspective, that is the best percentage in the league among players who take 4 or more pull-up threes per game and second best among players who take two or more pull-up threes per game.
Garland’s off-the-dribble shooting success isn’t just limited to threes. He is attempting 6.4 pull-up shots a game (2.3 of them are two-point shots) and has a 59.8 effective field goal percentage on that shot type. That’s second highest in the league among players taking three or more pull-up shots of any kind per game.
Pull-up shooting is a massive important offensive tool. Unlike catch and shoot threes, it doesn’t require playmaking or motion from the rest of the offense. It’s a shot type that can be attempted anytime once you create space off the dribble. The threat of the pull-up threes also forces defenders to be more aggressive on the perimeter which can open up driving range or opportunities for others if defenders are forced to rotate and help.
Despite the success with pull-up shooting, Garland’s scoring hasn’t been particularly well rounded. Only 25.3% of his shots are coming within 10 feet of the rim. He’s struggled to improve his in-between game much as he’s shooting 45.5% from 3 to 10 feet which isn’t necessarily ideal. Garland hasn’t realized his potential as an off-ball shooter yet either as he’s attempted just 1.6 catch-and-shoot threes a game which is down from the 2.4 he attempted last season. Finding a way to use his shooting ability off-ball more is something Garland and the coaching staff will need to prioritize in order to become a more well-rounded scorer.
Garland has taken tremendous strides as a passer and an off-the-dribble shooter. Those are two of the most valuable skillsets a point guard could have. It’s why many, including myself, believe he can become a superstar down the line. However, his fastest way of reaching that potential will be by becoming a more well rounded scorer. Going all-in on off-the-dribble threes could be a shortcut to getting to that goal.
Cedi Osman simplified game is paying off.
Osman is finally playing in his correct role and it shows. Osman came into Sunday’s game shooting 45.5% on catch and shoot threes on 4.1 attempts per game. That is the 11th highest field goal percentage in the league for players with three or more attempts per game.
Being able to play in a comfortable role with a great bench point guard in Ricky Rubio seems to be the biggest reason for his resurgence. Osman was moved to the bench at the start of last season but was never able to get comfortable in that role. Part of that was the lack of a second unit point guard. Osman was asked to do a decent amount of the ballhandling and playmaking with the second unit and struggled mightily. Those struggles bled into his shooting and made him unplayable for most of last season.
The addition of Rubio has allowed him to switch completely off ball and focus on what he’s best at which is providing energy on both ends (which somehow includes chase down blocks) and catch and shoot threes. Only 23.8% of Cedi’s field goal attempts are coming inside the arc which is nearly half of what it was last season (44.7%).
Role players need to be in the proper role to succeed. Forcing your average NBA player to guard positions outside their own and do things offensively they aren’t comfortable with will hardly ever work out. Osman is no different.
Ricky Rubio remains the Cavs’ most impactful player.
Rubio lit MSG on fire with an otherworldly 37-point performance and 10 assists which included shooting 8 for 9 from deep. Needless to say, games like that have been the exception and not the norm for Rubio. He came into Sunday’s game shooting 34.7% from the field while having his second lowest true shooting percentage in his career (47.0%).
Despite the poor shooting, Rubio continues to make a tremendous impact on winning. The Cavs are outscoring opponents by 6.3 points per 100 possessions when he’s on and are getting outscored by 5.7 points per 100 possessions when he’s off. That’s a ridiculous 12-point swing.
It’s easy to point to his playmaking as being the biggest reason he’s impacting winning the way that he is, but that in itself doesn’t really explain it. He’s averaging 6.8 assists per game but that’s offset by 3.0 turnovers as well. Rubio is a great passer, but he often commits turnovers trying to pull off passes he has no business attempting. The veteran’s defense, although better than Garland and Sexton’s, isn’t the reason the team is much better with him on either.
This sounds ridiculous to say, but the team just looks better when he’s out there. Rubio’s presence forces the offense into motion in ways that it isn’t when he’s not out there. His movement on and off-ball opens up lanes for his teammates and allows them to get into positions where they can be the best versions of themselves.
We’ve seen the young players have good games or stretches in previous seasons but those performances were never able to influence winning. It was almost like they were isolated from everything else that was happening. Rubio’s presence feels like the opposite of that. His basketball IQ allows those individual performances to work in concert instead of off on its own.
Rubio is a perfect example of why you need veterans to compete. Veterans like Rubio know how to elevate the games of the rest of the team in ways that don’t show up in the box score. We’ve seen this phenomenon happen with Kevin Love at stretches last season even though he wasn’t playing well at all. Rubio is providing that same type of positive impact but to a greater extent given the position he’s playing, the team’s needs, and his availability on the court.
Are the Cavs for real?
The Cavs are 7-4 after 11 games and only one of those games has come against a team that is currently under .500 in the Atlanta Hawks (which is a very good team despite their current record). The Cavs have also played eight of their 11 games on the road, which included a long west coast trip, and are 5-3 in those games. Young teams typically have a hard time playing on the road so being near .500 on the road is a massive win.
On top of that, the Cavs are winning despite their injuries. They have played the last week without three rotation players (Kevin Love, Lauri Markkanen and Isaac Okoro) and were able to win in The Garden without Collin Sexton in the second half. Getting healthy and fuller rotations should help everyone and take some of the burden off the young frontcourt.
If I was to be negative I would point out that the Cavs are relying heavily on Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley to be competitive and they are both playing heavy minutes. A team whose whole identity comes from it’s rookie power forward and 23-year old center is probably susceptible to a dip in play if/when their performance drops ever so slightly or if one of them are out of the lineup.
I would also point out that the Cavs are 7-4 despite only outscoring opponents by 1.8 points per 100 possessions. Four of the team’s seven wins have come in games decided by five points or less. The Cavs are winning close games (which is good!) but those games all could’ve easily gone the other way. They’re a couple bounces away from being 5-6 or worse.
The Cavs have been a good team through the first 11 games, but we need to see more before talking about the playoffs or anything like that. Nine of the next ten games are at home which should certainly help. Unfortunately for the Cavs, only the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic are guaranteed lottery bound teams in that stretch. They still have to go through tough teams like the Suns, Warriors, and Nets (twice).
If the Cavs are able to play the next 10 games at .500 or better then I think there’s something here. That would mean that the Cavs took care of business against the teams that they’re better than while also stealing a win or two against better teams on paper.
There’s a long way to go. The NBA season is a marathon and not a sprint. That said, it’s hard to envision a better start to the marathon for the Cavs. Especially considering how brutal their schedule has been.