NEW ORLEANS — A new year means a chance to make changes — an opportunity for resolutions. Apparently, the Cleveland Cavaliers made one as well.
Shoot more 3s.
In Wednesday’s loss — the 11th in a row — against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Cavs opened the game 8-of-8 from long range before Cameron Payne missed one early in the second quarter. Cleveland cooled off in the second half, couldn’t sustain the high level of play for all four quarters, but still finished with 14 triples — the second-most in a game all season.
The road trip opener was a continuation of something that started on Jan. 2 against the zone-happy Miami Heat, a night the Heat essentially dared the Cavs to beat them from deep.
Over the last five games, the Cavs rank sixth in made triples, averaging 12.6 per game. They are a respectable 12th in 3-point frequency, according to the stat-driven website Cleaning the Glass. During that same stretch, the Cavs are hitting an impressive 43.8 percent, which is good for the second-best mark in the league.
So what sparked the change? Well, it started with a shift in mindset.
“In all of our practices and shootarounds we preach layups and 3-pointers,” Jordan Clarkson told cleveland.com. “Try not to take too many mid-range jumpshots. That’s just something we have been preaching these last couple of weeks.”
Clarkson has played his part. On the season, about 24 percent of Clarkson’s shot attempts have come from that inefficient mid-range area. But since the start of 2019, that number has dropped to 14.8 percent.
It’s no surprise that Clarkson, no longer settling for the path of least resistance, is averaging 18.6 points on 51.4 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the arc in the last five games. He has three 20-point games — the longest such streak for him this season.
“LD, and us, we noticed that so it was like, ‘We have to change something,'” Clarkson said of the change in approach. “Start setting the culture. This is what we are doing in terms of young guys and stuff like that so we have to figure out what our identity is so these guys can learn.
“That’s my big thing right now. I’m either taking the 3 or trying to get all the way to the rim and make a play for my teammate when I draw guys.”
Clarkson has taken 48.6 percent of his shots in the paint. He has taken 36.4 percent of his shots from long range. Layups and 3’s indeed.
It hasn’t just been Clarkson. Cedi Osman isn’t running himself off the 3-point line anymore. Osman, just a 31 percent bomber, went 2-of-5 from 3-point range against the Pelicans and repeatedly stepped into those shots with confidence. More than half of his attempts were from deep.
Matthew Dellavedova, who has turned into a solid catch-and-shoot threat, has brought that new dimension to the second unit.
Payne, who has impressed in his first two games, can hit the long ball from time to time. He made a trio of 3’s on Wednesday.
Perhaps more important than the actual percentage is a team-wide willingness to take those looks. Well, with a caveat.
“We want to make it more a part of the offense, but we want good ones,” Drew told cleveland.com “I think as of late, particularly when we move the ball, have good looks and guys are getting feet set, we’ve had some chances. Everything is predicated for us on ball movement. We don’t play a lot of inside-out with no Kevin Love. We do get a lot of dribble penetration and try to put an emphasis on dribble penetration. When the defenses collapse we look to kick out. Think we have done a better job with that as of late.
“We have always encouraged the 3-ball, but it’s how we get it.”
Only time will tell whether this new way is sustainable, especially given the personnel, or if it’s just another one of those resolutions that’s eventually ignored.