One Team, One Stat: Spark behind Cavs’ corner threat
NBA.com Global on Sep 28, 2017 09:59 AM
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) shoots between Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (9) and Warriors' Kevin Durant during the second half of Game 4 of basketball's NBA Finals in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
NBA.com's John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2017-18 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Cleveland Cavaliers, who set a record from the corners.
The Cavs made made 353 corner 3-pointers last season, 76 more than any other team and more than any team in the 21 years for which we have shot location data (since 1996-97).
After shots in the restricted area, corner threes are the most efficient shots on the floor, worth about 1.2 points per attempt league-wide. If you can't get to the basket or get to the line, your best shot is from the corner.
No player generates more corner threes for his teammates than LeBron James. James' 162 assists last season on corner threes were 31 more than any player has ever registered. Add in the 15 corner threes that he made himself and he accounted for more than half of the Cavs' total.
Kyrie Irving had a higher usage rate than James, but assisted on less than half as many corner threes (0.8 per 36) as James did (2.1) on a per-minute basis. Isaiah Thomas (0.8 per 36) assisted on corner threes at about the same rate as Irving even though the Celtics made 100 fewer than the Cavs.
The Cleveland offense could suffer without Irving, but it's worth noting that James' teams have ranked in the top six in offensive efficiency in each of the last nine seasons. If you surround him with enough shooters (and the Cavs still have plenty of those), you have the makings of a great offense.
Speaking of those shooters, Part I: In 32 games with Atlanta last season, Kyle Korver made 15 corner threes. In 35 games with Cleveland, he made 38, with James assisting on more (17) than Korver made with Atlanta. (Of course, Korver missed the one that would have won Game 3 of The Finals, having shot 57 percent from the left corner up to that point.)
Speaking of those shooters, Part II: Korver (95 percent) and Channing Frye (93 percent) were the only two players in the league who attempted at least 500 shots and were assisted on at least 90 percent of their makes.
Speaking of those shooters, Part III: 44 percent of Iman Shumpert's 3-point attempts came from the corners. That was the third highest rate among 135 players that attempted at least 200 total threes.
Speaking of those shooters, Part IV: Kevin Love (21), J.R. Smith (15) and Korver (11) ranked first, second and fifth in postseason corner threes.
Dwyane Wade? He has shot 42 percent on corner threes (compared to just 28 percent on above-the-break threes) over the last two seasons, but that's on only 38 total attempts. Though Wade clearly has limited range, he has taken less than 10 percent of his threes from the corner over the course of his career. As a whole, the league has taken 24 percent of threes from the corners over those 14 years.
Even in his four seasons with James in Miami, Wade took only nine percent of his threes from the corners. Of course, he can create some shots from the corner. His teams haven't shot a lot of threes, but Wade has more assists on corner threes (86) than on above-the-break threes (77) over the last two years.
The bigger question for the Cavs' new additions is how much they can help on the other end of the floor. Last season, Cleveland ranked 22nd defensively, with transition defense being a critical issue. No team allowed more points per possession in transition, and only six teams allowed a higher frequency of transition possessions.
The one problem with corner threes is that when you shoot them, you're in a bad position to get back in transition. The furthest point from the opponent's basket is the opposite corner. Put two shooters in the corners and opponents will be able to run after a missed shot, unless you react quickly and get back.
When the Cavs did that, it worked out well. Their opponents had an effective field goal percentage of 55.8 percent (sixth highest in the league) in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock and 46.7 percent (sixth lowest) in the last 12 seconds. That was the biggest drop-off in opponent effective field goal percentage from the first half to the last half of the shot clock, according to SportVU.
But in general, the Cavs' "first three steps" in transition weren't quick enough. Jae Crowder should help the defense, both in transition and in the half court. But from top to bottom, the Cavs have to develop better habits so that their greatest strength on one end of the floor doesn't weaken them on the other end.
CAVS NOTES - GENERAL
1. Outscored their opponents by 2.9 points per 100 possessions, the worst NetRtg for a LeBron James team in the last nine years (since the 2007-08 season).
2. Were 10.6 points per 100 possessions better at home (plus-8.2) than they were on the road (minus-2.4). That was the third biggest home-road NetRtg differential in the league and the biggest among playoff teams.
3. Were 5.0 possessions worse after the All-Star break (minus-0.5) than they were before the break (plus-4.6). That was the league's biggest post-break NetRtg drop-off.
4. Were at their best in the first quarter (plus-9.5 points per 100 possessions) and at their worst in the fourth (minus-3.1).
5. Went 27-9 (0.750) on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, but were just 24-22 (0.522) from Monday-Thursday. That was the biggest differential in winning percentage between weekend and weekday games.
6. Are 4-23 without James over the last three years, having lost the last 11 games he has missed.
CAVS NOTES - OFFENSE
1. Effective field goal percentage of 54.7 percent ranked second in the league, but was the eighth highest mark in NBA history.
2. Were the only team that ranked in the top five in both 3-point percentage and in the percentage of total shots that came from 3-point range, ranking second in both.
3. Only 40.0 percent of their shots came in the paint, the second lowest rate in the league. Only Dallas (35.8 percent) took a lower percentage of its shots from the paint.
4. 11.9 percent of their possessions were isolations, the highest rate in the league. Their 0.99 points per possession in isolations was the league's best mark.
5. Were the most improved offensive team in the playoffs, scoring 7.2 more points per 100 possessions than they did in the regular season. The 118.1 points per 100 possessions they scored in the playoffs were the most scored by any playoff team in the last 20 years. The 126.9 points per 100 possessions they scored in the conference finals were the most scored by any team in any series in the last 20 years.
CAVS NOTES - DEFENSE
1. Lowest ranked defensive team (ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency in the regular season) to make The Finals in the 40 years since the league started counting turnovers in 1977. The second lowest ranked defensive team to reach The Finals in that span was the '14-15 Cavs, who ranked 20th. They're two of only seven below-average defensive teams to have reached The Finals in those 40 years. Only one of the seven (the 2000-01 Lakers) won the championship.
2. Ranked 29th defensively after the All-Star break, allowing 111.1 points per 100 possessions. The 11.0 turnovers per 100 possessions they forced after the break were a league low and down from 13.5 per 100 possessions (19th in the league) before the break.
3. Saw the league's biggest drop in defensive rebounding percentage, from 78.5 percent (fifth) in 2015-16 to 75.7 percent (24th) last season, even though James had the highest defensive rebounding percentage of his career (20.9 percent) and Love had the highest mark in his three seasons with the Cavs (19.3 percent).
4. Saw the league's second biggest drop in opponent free throw rate, from 27.5 attempts per 100 shots from the field (16th) in '15-16 to 22.2 (third) last season.
5. Were the second most improved defensive team in the playoffs, allowing only 0.4 points per 100 possessions more than they did in the regular season. League-wide postseason efficiency (108.5 points scored per 100 possessions) was higher than regular-season efficiency (106.2) and only one team (Milwaukee) allowed fewer points per 100 possessions than it did in the regular season.
CAVS NOTES - LINEUPS
1. In the regular season, the Cavs were 16.3 points per 100 possessions better with James on the floor (plus-7.7) than they were with him on the bench (minus-8.5). That was the second largest on-off NetRtg differential (behind that of Chris Paul) among 277 players who played at least 1,000 minutes for a single team last season. In the playoffs, the Cavs were 27.4 points per 100 possessions better with James on the floor (plus-13.6) than they were with him on the bench (minus-13.8). In The Finals, they were outscored by 27 points in the 28 minutes he sat on the bench.
2. Lineup of Irving, DeAndre Liggins, James, Love and Tristan Thompson (the starting unit for parts of December and January) was the team's third most-used lineup, but had its best raw plus-minus (plus-118) by a wide margin. The lineup shot 48.8 percent from 3-point range, the best mark among 55 lineups that attempted at least 100 threes.
3. Played 705 minutes with James on the floor without a point guard (Irving or Kay Felder) in the regular season, scoring 111.0 points per 100 possessions.
4. Starting lineup played 322 minutes, 72 more minutes than any other five-man unit, in the postseason.
5. Outscored their opponents by 23.3 points per 100 possessions in 102 minutes with James and Love playing the four and five (no other bigs on the floor) in the playoffs (including 62 minutes in The Finals in which they were a plus-19). They only used that configuration for 192 minutes (13 percent of James' and Love's total minutes together) in the regular season.
CAVS NOTES - INDIVIDUAL
1. LeBron James led the league with 468 baskets in the restricted area. He shot 76.1 percent there, the second best mark among players with at least 200 restricted-area field goal attempts. Among 134 players who took at least 200 shots both in and out of paint, he had the biggest difference in field goal percentage in the paint (70.0 percent) vs. outside the paint (36.2 percent).
2. James had an effective field goal percentage of 64.4 percent and a true shooting percentage of 67.3 percent in the clutch (score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime). Both marks were the best among 40 players who attempted at least 50 clutch shots.
3. James and Kyrie Irving ranked fourth and fifth in isolations possessions per game with 5.1 each. Irving and Isaiah Thomas each scored 1.12 points per possession on isolation possessions, the best marks among 54 players who had at least 100.
4. Thomas took 79.8 percent of his shots from the restricted area or 3-point range, the second highest rate among the 38 players who took at least 1,000 shots last season. James' rate (71.2 percent) was the sixth highest among the 38 and the highest of his career. For the first time in his 14 seasons, he took more 3-pointers than mid-range shots.
5. At 9.8 points per game, Thomas was the league's second leading scorer in the fourth quarter, when he scored more efficiently (true shooting percentage of 65.0 percent) than he did in any other period. He took 91 more shots in the clutch than any of his Celtics teammates. Among 40 players who took at least 50 shots in those situations, he had the fifth best effective field goal percentage (55.2 percent) and the third best true shooting percentage (65.4 percent).
6. Among 30 starting point guards (those that started the most games for their team), Irving (19.3 percent), Derrick Rose (18.6 percent) and Thomas (18.5 percent), ranked 27th, 28th and 30th in assist ratio (the percentage of their possessions that resulted in an assist).
7. Kyle Korver averaged just 0.54 dribbles per touch, fewest among guards who averaged at least 20 minutes in 40 or more games.
8. Kevin Love's field goal attempts per 36 minutes went down as the game went on, from 21.4 (third most in the league) in the first quarter, to 15.4 in the second, 15.0 in the third, and 11.5 (75th in the league) in the fourth.
9. J.R. Smith had an effective field goal percentage of 70.7 percent in the playoffs (second among 93 players with at least 50 postseason field goal attempts), up from 47.9 percent in the regular season (well below the league average of 51.4 percent). That was the biggest increase among players who took at least 50 shots in the postseason.
10. Dwyane Wade recorded career lows in effective field goal percentage (45.7 percent) and true shooting percentage (50.8 percent) last season. Those numbers ranked 163rd and 151st among 174 players who attempted at least 500 shots.
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