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The Cavs are Playing Basketball Wrong

The Cleveland Cavaliers are now 1-10. One month ago, the team was thought to be a potential contender for the eighth and final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. Now, the Cavs are the favorites to finish with the worst record in the NBA, although not necessarily with the first overall pick, thanks to the new lottery rules. There are a multitude of reasons for the team’s underperformance, but there are a few that are especially concerning, not just for this season, but also for the future of the team.

One Reddit user points out some alarming trends through the first 11 games. These are all excellent points, and they reveal that the Cavaliers are not playing 2018 basketball. During a time when analytics and efficiency are all the rage, Cleveland is moving in the opposite direction.

The two most efficient shots in basketball are the layup (or dunk) and the three-pointer. The former because it occurs as close to the basket as possible, and the latter because of the (usually) increased separation and the extra point per make.

Ante Zizic

The Cavs rank 15th in league in shots attempted within five feet of the basket, with 32.5 per game. This puts them 10.4 behind the league-leading Los Angeles Lakers. This isn’t terrible, as things could be much worse. Ideally, every two-point shot would be attempted close to the rim, because, statistically, the closer a player is to the basket when shooting, the more likely he is to make the shot.

The problem is that Cleveland ranks 26th in field goal percentage from this range, at 57%. The Golden State Warriors pace the NBA with a 69.9% clip. The culprits for this low number? Kevin Love (45.8% on six attempts) and Cedi Osman (45.7% on 4.2 attempts). George Hill is the team’s best player when shooting close, as he is hitting 66.7% of his 3.3 attempts per game. The Cavs should aim to move into the top 10 in close shots attempted, but they need to be able to make them. If a team is missing the highest-efficiency shot, they are in deep trouble.

Let’s see how the Cavaliers stack up against the league leaders in other shooting ranges:

Cavs, Koby Altman, RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish

5-9 feet – 7.2 FGA (21st), 35.4% (21st) – Detroit Pistons – 12.1 FGA – Boston Celtics – 48.3%

The most efficient team from this range is shooting under 50%. This is an area of the floor to shy away from, and the Cavaliers are doing a decent job of that.

10-14 feet – 8.4 FGA (7th), 34.8% (24th) – San Antonio Spurs – 10.1 FGA – Sacramento Kings – 52.2%

This is the beginning of the dreaded mid-range. The area between a high-efficiency two-pointer and a more rewarding triple. Many teams are shying away from shots in this range and the next.

15-19 feet – 13.2 FGA (2nd), 42.1% (12th) – San Antonio Spurs – 15.8 FGA – Toronto Raptors – 61.3%

Taking a shot from this distance is even worse than attempting one from 10-14 ft. The possible return on this shot is not worth the decrease in probability of making it. Take a step or two back and shoot a three-pointer instead. The attempts from this range need to be significantly decreased. There’s really no reason for a player to take a long two. Yet, that’s exactly what players like Collin Sexton and Rodney Hood are doing. Larry Drew needs to drill this tendency out of his players as soon as possible.

20-24 feet – 4.3 FGA (27th), 40.9% (8th) – Utah Jazz – 19.5 FGA – Portland Trailblazers – 44.8%

This doesn’t look so bad at first. Yes, the Cavs rank near the bottom of the league in attempts, but they are only four percentage points off the pace in efficiency. This means they are making their three-pointers when they are taking them, right? Wrong. Cleveland attempts the fewest shots from beyond the arc in the league, at a frequency of just 27.3%.

Kevin Love

This means that the Cavaliers are taking 3.13 deep twos per game. And these are the deepest twos possible. The chances of making these shots are very low, and they still count for only two points. One step backward and the player can take a three-pointer, which is actually worth attempting. These 3+ shots account for three wasted possessions each game, which don’t really mean much right now, as the Cavs are usually getting blown out by 10+ points, but if this trend continues, they will lose close games because of it.

25-29 feet – 15.5 (28th), 32.9% (22nd) – Milwaukee Bucks – 28.0 – Los Angeles Clippers – 39.8%

This is both alarming and interesting. In the 2017-2018 season, Cleveland attempted the fifth-most triples and was the sixth-most efficient team at making them. 10 players return from that team, and of those not returning, only Jeff Green and LeBron James accounted for a somewhat significant portion of those attempts. What has changed? The answer is unclear, as not much has on the surface. Whatever the case, this should not be happening.

For some reason, this Cavs team is settling for mid-range jumpers, and shooting the three-pointer far less. This is a tailor-made recipe for losing, and that is proving to be true. Layups and triples are the most efficient shots in the sport, and Cleveland is attempting them far less than most other teams. The losing goes beyond a reduction in talent; the entire offensive system must be changed before the team starts winning.

Kevin Love

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