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What we learned about the Cavs from Jan. 25 - 31

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I’m old enough to remember when the Cavs actually shot threes.

Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Cavs have had three of their worst losses of the season within a span of eight days. The Cavs suffered a blowout loss to the Boston Celtics last week and threw together disappointing losses to the New York Knicks and the Minnesota Timberwolves this week. The Cavs did sprinkle in a solid showing against the Los Angeles Lakers and a commanding win over the Detroit Pistons.

Here’s what we learned from this up but mostly down week:

The defense is going the wrong way.

The Cavs are slowly falling down the defensive charts as they now have a 108.3 defensive rating which is good for eighth in the league. This will continue to fall if they keep playing the way they have been the last two weeks.

Over the last seven games, the defense has a 114.2 rating which is good for 22nd in the league during that span. The Cavs aren’t playing with the same discipline and intensity on that end. The defense was keeping them in games, but has become a liability instead of an asset recently. Things could get ugly in a hurry if this trend continues considering how bad the offense is.

Three-point shooting is an issue.

The Cavs are now tied for the worst offense in the league with a 103.9 offensive rating. Despite the improvement in the record book, the offense is worse than it was in 2018-19 (106.8 offensive rating) and 2019-20 (106.9 offensive rating). The biggest reason for this regression is the decrease in three-point attempts over the years. The Cavs are averaging 27.2 three-point attempts per game which is lower than ’18-19 (29.1) and ’19-20 (31.8).

The three most efficient ways to score are getting to the rim, getting to the free-throw line, or shooting threes. The problem is, it’s impossible to have an efficient or even an above-average offense if you aren’t able to do one of those three things. Each element works in concert with the others. Driving lanes open up if you can shoot from the outside. Likewise, outside looks are generated when you can get into the lane and force the defense to collapse. Both skills get defenses out of positions which leads to fouls.

The whole point of going through that, is to say that the Cavs lack of outside shots has hurt other areas of their game. The Cavs are averaging the second most shots inside five feet of the rim but have the worst field goal percentage (55.8%) in the league from that distance. This combined with the lack of threes is why the offense has been abysmal.

Collin Sexton and Darius Garland are the most consistent three-point options in the starting lineup right now, but they have not been able to shoot in volume as needed. This could be due with them having to be staggered significantly due to the lack of a backup point guard. Sexton and Garland are often split up which seems to take away the catch and shoot aspect of their games because there isn’t another perimeter player on the team who can destabilize a defense in a way that could generate a catch and shoot.

The only way to get Sexton or Garland looks when they’re playing apart is to emphasize the pull-up threes. Both have done well in these areas despite not doing it in volume. Sexton is taking 6.4 pull-up jumpers a game but is averaging just 1.6 pull-up threes a game. He’s knocking those down at 45.5%. Garland is taking 1.9 pull-up threes a game and is knocking them down at a 42.9% clip. Those numbers are both great, but I’d be more than okay if the percentages came down and the three-point attempts went up.

Kevin Love will solve a lot of offensive problems for the Cavs when he returns. He was one of the most efficient, high-volume outside shooters in the league last season. Adding him into the mix will boast their overall three-point attempts immensely and should help their ability to finish at the rim as he will generate space for everyone, especially the young guards.

Love isn’t a long-term answer. The Cavs will need to find another shooter to go alongside Sexton, Garland, and Okoro if that trio is going to work long-term unless Okoro takes a massive leap in this area. This will be something that Koby Altman and company will have to address. The Cavs will find themselves back in the lottery if the three-point shooting doesn’t turn around.