The Cavs and 3fficiency

Joshua Gunter,

They say bad things come in threes, and with the Cavaliers’ blistering shooting, their opponents would agree. In Ty Lue’s first full season as head coach, the Cavaliers have not only joined in the league-wide trend of bombing from behind the arc, they are leading the charge. Even more impressive is the Cavaliers’ ability to increase their efficiency in the process, with a bench deep in shooting.

The NBA has gone through a transformation in recent years, with teams realizing that the best way to maximize offensive possessions is to also maximize the number of threes taken. Chicks dig the long ball, after all. To put the most recent jump in perspective, in the 2014-2015 season only one team took more than 34 percent of their shots from behind the arc. That number increased to four teams last season, and has jumped to seven teams this season. The Houston Rockets are taking nearly half of all shot attempts from three. The team most often associated with the three ball, the Golden State Warriors, are taking nearly the same percentage of threes as last season (36 percent) but have dropped from the second highest percentage to the sixth.

The Cavaliers have followed this trend, shooting the second highest percentage of threes in 2014-2015, third highest in 2015-2016, and back to the second most frequent this season. But with the entire league making a significant jump this season, that second-place ranking this season has come as a huge increase.

cavs improvement from 3

But even in this environment where three point shooting is at a premium, Cavaliers General Magician David Griffin has been able to acquire elite level shooting with limited assets. The additions of players like Channing Frye and Kyle Korver have given the Cavaliers a deep arsenal of shooters. Added to a roster of career sharpshooters like J.R. Smith, Kevin Love and resurgent seasons from Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Iman Shumpert, the Cavaliers tout the second best accuracy from deep. Not only that, they are not reliant on a singular shooter to produce those shots.

Of the other elite teams firing a high number of shots from three, the Cavaliers tout one of the most balanced attacks. Houston hosts two players shooting over nine threes per game in James Harden and Eric Gordon. Boston’s Isaiah Thomas launches eight and a half per game. In Golden State, Stephen Curry shoots nearly ten threes per game, with his Splash Brother Klay Thompson firing eight. The Cavaliers don’t have a single player shooting even seven threes per game, with Kevin Love topping the team at 6.7 attempts per contest. Behind him, J.R. Smith, Kyrie Irving, Channing Frye, Kyle Korver, and LeBron James all average more than four and a half per game. This balanced attack helps the Cavs survive cold shooting nights or ride the hot hand. As J.R. Smith showed in Game 7 of last year’s NBA Finals, a hot hand can be the difference between a championship and an offseason of 3-1 jokes.

To put this disparity in perspective, here is a look at all of the three pointers made by both the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers this season.

cavs vs warriors 3

What this all amounts to is the Cavaliers becoming the most high volume and efficient three point shooting team in the NBA. David Griffin has created a roster deep with shooters, and Ty Lue has given them the green light to fire away. The chart below shows just how well the Cavs have navigated the changing tide of the NBA to create another advantage as they gear up for the playoff run.

cavs efficiency from 3

Will this be enough to lead the Cavaliers over the stacked Golden State Warriors roster and to another championship? That is yet to be seen, but they have turned what were traditionally thought to be strengths of the Warriors (three point shooting and depth) into strengths of their own. And if it comes down to talent, the Cavaliers still have the best player on the planet wearing gold and wine.