No shot in basketball is more tantalizing than the 3-point shot. An arbitrary arc drawn on the court that encompasses the team’s offensive zone, it acts as an ever taunting force, daring and begging players who find themselves outside said arc to shoot the ball.
For some teams, the shot is an exercise in performing winning basketball. For other teams, the shot is a reminder of everything that is wrong with that team’s offense.
The Cleveland Cavaliers might be somewhere in between those two extremes, but such is the nature of 3-point shooting for most teams. The old basketball adage of living or dying by “the three” is one of the more true clichés in all of sports. It makes sense, too, because after all, you can make a pretty strong argument that in the game of basketball, the most important thing you can do is make shots.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that the Cavaliers’ fate in games this year has more or less been directly correlated to their 3-point shooting. After setting the rim on fire from 3-point land earlier in the season, the team has continued to lean on the shot on this road trip, only to much worse results.
The Cavaliers were 3-2 in their first five games, shooting 42.3% from long range. So far, after four games on this road trip, the team is shooting 26.2% from three, going 1-3 in those games. After shooting 50% on his threes in the first two games (4-of -8 shooting), Ramon Sessions has gone 2-for-9 since (22.2%). Anthony Parker’s 32.4% is by far the lowest of his career since he returned from Europe in 2006. Omri Casspi’s 29.2% is almost an eight percent drop on his career low and a nine percent dip from last season. Antawn Jamison’s 28.9% is his lowest since his second year in the league. He hasn’t shot worse than 34% from three since 2007-08, which was the only time in the last 10 seasons he shot below 34%.
Despite so many players struggling with their 3-point shot, the Cavaliers still are sevent in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted per game at 20.9. Thanks to the extremely hot shooting from Daniel Gibson, along with the early hot shooting as a team, the Cavaliers are still 11th in the NBA in three-point percentage, which is certainly respectable. But is taking so many 3-point shots problematic for this offense?
With the exception of Ramon Sessions, all these players have proven in their career that they can hit that shot. So from a certain point of view, it might make sense to let the players keep shooting in the hopes that they can shoot their way out of the slumps and get their shooting percentages closer to their career averages.
Furthermore, the Cavaliers are getting mostly open looks on their threes. This is part of the reason why Byron Scott hasn’t been upset by the amount of threes taken. They are good shots that you expect NBA players to make. The Cavaliers simply aren’t making them.
On the other hand, some might look at the Cavaliers’ scoring in the paint (43.1 ppg, 5th in the NBA) and wonder if they wouldn’t be better off trying to keep getting the ball inside. The problem there is that the Cavaliers are actually 20th in the NBA in efficiency inside the paint. Their .461 FG% inside the paint is 23rd in the NBA. On layups, dunks, and tip-ins alone they shoot 59.7%, which is 21st in the NBA.
Therein lies part of the problem with the Cavaliers’ offense. With limited creativity and scoring ability on the wings, the Cavaliers are stuck relying on volume shooting from Jamison, Kyrie Irving creating off the dribble, and the bigs cleaning up on the scraps. There seems to be no mid range game for the Cavaliers and they are thus they are making it easier for teams to defend their strengths.
The team is definitely buying into Byron Scott’s offense and getting better at running it. They do a pretty solid job of moving without the ball and keeping the ball moving with decent passing. The offense is vastly better than last season, with plenty of areas still left to improve on.
So what’s the problem? And is there even a problem. I think it’s too early to say there’s a problem. I think right now the team is just cold from outside. The team has been on the road since January 4 and won’t be home again until January 17. At that point, they will have played three home games and nine road games. Once they start to get some home games, some comfort, and some momentum, I fully expect the 3-point shooting to improve again and for this team to continue to get better offensively.
However, there is one aspect of the offense I’d like to see get a little better, and that’s what is frequently referred to as “the extra pass”. Some call them “hockey assists”, but whatever you want to call it, I think a little more discretion in shot selection from 3-point range would be nice to see. Every once in a while the ball stops moving when a guy is open from three, even when another play is open closer to the rim. I would like to see Coach Scott remind his players (*cough* Jamison *cough cough*) that just because you’re open from three, you don’t have to take the shot.
As I watch other games in the NBA, I’ve been keeping an eye on how the best teams run their offenses. Countless times I’ve seen decent/good 3-point shooters pass up an open 3 to swing the ball to a player in better scoring position. Other times, I see them use the space to draw a chasing defender in the air and then drive and either score, draw a foul, or set up an easy assist.
Obviously, Ray Allen isn’t passing up any open threes. And to that point, neither should Daniel Gibson. If you’re a great 3 point shooter, take the shot. But if you’re an average shooter, it’s good to change things up sometimes and use some of your other skills, particularly when your outside shot isn’t falling.
To be fair to Jamison, his presence outside the 3-point line does make things easier inside for the Cavaliers. He routinely draws defenders (PFs) outside the paint, opening things up for the Cavaliers’ pick and roll game. So there is value in what he’s doing. Furthermore, the guy is still leading the Cavaliers in scoring. So none of this is to say he needs to blow up his game completely.
The point is, after watching Jamison, Parker, and Casspi (three of the Cavs’ top four in 3PA this season) brick 3-pointer after 3-pointer, I’d like to see some evolution in the offense. I actually have faith that these 3 will start to shoot better, and at that time the offense can lean on them from outside a little more. The offense itself, in terms of pure schematics, is mostly working. That’s the good news. Now if the Cavaliers can just get some better execution on the individual level, we might see just what can be done with Coach Scott’s scheme.