CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 10: LeBron James
The Cleveland Cavaliers have the ingredients for spacing and floor balance but do they have the recipe?
With Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue announcing that Dwyane Wade, who has started 1076 out of 1097 career games (playoffs included), would start for the Cavs beside Derrick Rose, there was hesitancy from fans and media who couldn’t see how the Cavs would space the floor enough to have the same level of offensive potency as they had last season.
In 2016-2017, the Cavs had an offensive rating of 113.6 (3rd-highest in NBA), averaged 110.3 points per game (4th-highest in NBA), shot 33.9 threes per game (2nd-highest in NBA) making 13.0 per game (2nd-highest in NBA) and made 38.4 percent of their three-point attempts (2nd-highest in NBA).
Rose and Wade shot a combined 3.3 three-point attempts per game last season (neither shooting above 31.0 percent from three-point range) and are playing in the place of Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith, notorious for their three-point stroke. Irving and Smith shot a combined 12.7 three-point attempts per game last season, nearly four times as many as Rose and Wade. Both shot above 35.0 percent from three-point range.
In order for the Cleveland Cavaliers to have the type of spacing that they want and need to thrive on offense, they need a bit more than the sets they added to enhance the ball and player movement.
However, a team like the San Antonio Spurs would be a great one for Lue to emulate in some ways when it comes to personnel and how they space they floor.
While Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard were known as great three-point shooters before the season, starters Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge were most efficient from the corners. Tony Parker has not been a great three-point shooter over the course of his career. On their bench, however, the Spurs had a number of efficient three-point shooters (Manu Ginobli, Patty Mills, Dejounte Murray, Davis Bertans).
As a result, while the Spurs were 17th in the NBA in three-point conversions per game (9.2) and 25th in the NBA in three-point attempts per game (23.5), they were top in the league with a three-point percentage of 39.1. The Spurs are a team that thrives ib ball and player movement, with Spurs head coach expecting players to make the decision to drive, catch or shoot within the matter of a few seconds so that the ball doesn’t stick. Although the Golden State Warriors have become the best passing team in the league in recent years, the Spurs have always been a team that ran a beautiful offense simplified by the fact that the team had intelligent players moved the ball and moved without the ball.
The team has repeatedly mentioned the intelligence of their personnel throughout training camp, as well as the playmaking abilities of several players (Rose, Wade, LeBron James, Kevin Love). Wade (47.6 percent from the corners) and Rose (45.5 percent from the corners) are nearly as much of three-point threats as Aldridge (0.8 three-point attempts per game, 43.5 percent from the corner last season) and Gasol (1.6 three-point attempts per game, 67.7 percent from the corner last season).
With a second unit that includes Smith and Kyle Korver, two elite three-point shooters, and Iman Shumpert, a solid catch-and-shoot threat, the Cavs should be able to generate solid spacing and achieve the floor balance they need for the offense to flow smoothly.
As I mentioned before though, the Cavs will need a bit more than movement-enhancing sets to achieve the floor spacing they desire.
Part of that will rely on Love and Crowder opening up the driving lanes for the Cleveland Cavaliers early and often with the threat of their three-point shot so that opposing bigs leave the lane.
James is able to draw big men out of the paint in the pick-and-roll after causing a switch and beat them off-the-dribble to the lane, something that Love and Crowder are unlikely to be asked to do. Playing off of James to crowd the paint isn’t always the best idea either, as his court vision makes defenders pay for cheating off their man and his strength allows him to barrel through defenders if he feels like it.
However, he too will need cash out from behind the arc until Thomas returns. It’s nothing he hasn’t done before.
In Miami, Chris Bosh often played at center while a Shane Battier or Rashard Lewis played at power forward. Aside from Bosh’s agility in comparison to Love’s and that Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen, three-point specialists, were often beside Wade in the backcourt and not another slasher, the Cavs offense bears some semblance to the Heat’s as well.
While Bosh was a stretch big who was money from the midrange, he had never shot above 34.0 percent from three-point range in the regular season until James left. He was ultra-efficient in the playoffs (41.9 percent) but only to 1.4 three-point attempts per game, Love has made 36.6 percent of his threes (regular season) since joining the Cavs (5.8 per game) and 43.2 percent of his threes in the playoffs (5.8 per game).
In those years, James converted 36.9 percent of his threes (3.4 attempts per game). Last season, James made 36.3 percent of his three-point attempts (4.6 per game). That may mean that ultimately the Cavs decide to play more of Smith and Korver with Wade until Thomas returns but if not the Cavs will have to maximize James’ three-point potential by having him operate as an off-ball shooter as Rose and Wade drive-and-kick. With Crowder, Love and James all showing the ability to be efficient off-ball, Rose and Wade will have an easier time getting to the rim.
Then when Shumpert or Smith comes in the game for Rose, James can rev up his engines for the attack.
In essence, the ingredients for floor balance are at least two slashers and three shooters. The recipe is far more technical but will require both movement and versatility.
*All stats gathered from www.basketball-reference.com