The Cavs offense has the potential to be playoff juggernaut. While the defense will dictate a lot in how far they go, their offense will be the difference-maker in the individual games thanks to the difficulty stopping the Cavaliers in the halfcourt offense.
The Cavaliers don’t run a lot but when they do the team makes them count. That’s much like the playoffs where you will get limited fastbreak opportunities so you have to make the best of them. In the end, it’s what you can do in the halfcourt offensively and defensively that will determine the NBA champ.
They’re just too multi-faceted and individually talented to do too much with in the halfcourt, and there’s some indication that Blatt’s saving his best sets and plays for the playoffs so opponents have less time and film to scheme from. We’ll take a look at the offense and a few sets from the Miami game.
How Do we Love Thee
The stats are extraordinary. The Cavaliers excel in just about every offensive category – and these are season-long stats not just from LeBron’s January 13 return or the beginning of the win streak two days later. The only thing they don’t do is find guys off screens (think Ray Allen) – it’s not their way (29th in frequency).
• Transition: 2nd best behind Clippers, though they don’t do it that often (12th in transition possessions).
• Dribble Handoff*: 2nd best behind Clippers (28th in frequency) (*that weave offense the Cavs hardly ever use – 28th in the league)
• Spot-up: 2nd best behind Warriors (19th)
• Post-up: 6th best team (16th) – Kevin Love is 3rd in points-per-play (min. 200 possessions) just ahead of LeMarcus Aldridge and behind Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Montejunas.
The team’s pick and roll is broken into two categories, the ballhandler and the roll-man. The roll-man is the one who sets the pick and rolls to the basket. The Cavaliers have had some of the best in Tristan Thompson (93rd percentile), Timofey Mozgov (91st percentile) and Anderson Varejao (88th percentile).
Cavs roll-men are fourth-best in the league behind Dallas, Toronto and Miami, scoring 1.1 points every attempt. Unfortunately the Cavaliers get it to their roll-men at a relatively low-frequency, ranking 21st, with the Atlanta Hawks atop. The Cavs ballhandlers handle it the fifth-highest percentage of the time behind Dallas, Orlando, Charlotte and Oklahoma City.
So obviously the Cavs’ ballhandlers have tended to keep it themselves more than dish it. They’re “only” seventh in the offensive efficiency here, where the Clippers’ Chris Paul sets the standard, boosting his team 7% higher than the next-best Golden State Warriors. This is a space where the Cavs have room to improve. They’re already damn good, but to win the Finals probably need to sharpen this part of their game a bit more.
Stop This: Cavs showcase some wrinkles versus Miami
There were several interesting offensive plays in Thursday’s game with the Heat. We pulled them out to highlight some of the options and threats they present to our opponents. We start of with the unusual, but deadly Kyrie/LeBron pick & roll.
LeBron James has not done a lot of picking this year – Synergy has James playing the roll-man on just 12 possessions all year long. That probably doesn’t include Thursday’s game against Miami, but there it was in the opening minute and it looked pretty deadly, even though J.R. Smith bricked the wide-open 3.
Notice how far out from the basket the pick takes place. It leaves enough floor for LeBron to take one dribble into the lane drawing all three remaining defenders and opening either a Mozgov oop (if James and get it over the Heat in front of him) or wide-open corner threes to either side.
This is one of those plays you actually sort of can’t believe Blatt showed since he seems such a “sunglasses & hoodie” poker player.
LeBron James posts-up more than people appreciate, but he was actually playing the four in this lineup which made it especially interesting. This particular set-up is interesting, whether it’s Kevin Love or James Jones in there. It only resulted in a rather unexciting J.R. Smith three coming over the top of Mozgov’s pick. But the options available off this are intriguing.
First off let’s note that it’s Smith not Irving initiating the play. This was one of the less-remarked features of the trade – Smith is nearly as good a pick-and-roll ballhandler (80th percentile) as Kyrie (89th percentile) and better than James (67th percentile). And if you were wondering Dion Waiters was as bad as your eyes told you (34th percentile). Remind me to send something nice to Phil Jackson for Christmas this year.
Using Smith as the ballhandler allows Kyrie to make a cut off Jones’ pick. We’re going to see a lot more plays like this because Irving (87th) and James (92nd) are incredibly moving away from the ball and converting plays off of cuts to the basket, both converting more than 1.4 points-per-play.
However collectively they’ve only done this 75 possessions – just a tad more than Shawn Marion’s seen this season alone (71 possessions), though admittedly that’s the biggest way he gets his points. The fact that we’re seeing these plays now hints that we’ll see more plays with James and Irving off the ball.
Indeed, Irving’s done well as a post-up player (.96 ppp in 25 possessions, 82nd percentile). Thompson (.73, 30th) and Mozgov (.94, 78th) aren’t even that good. James’ post-up play has been one of the weaker parts of his game (.82, 49th), however, allowing him to pass out of the post up to cutting players like Kyrie or Mozgov – or back out to Smith or Jones, who like Love often does, could pick and flare to the three line to catch a James pass at the three-point line.
This final play is another LeBron/Kyrie pick & roll as part of a double high pick on Kyrie. He reverses directions after the first pick catching his man trying to go over in the misdirection, then catching James as he rolled baseline. The addition of Mozgov to the action potentially forces a mismatch on the roll as a big gets caught on the perimeter trying to check either Irving or James. As always Smith and Jones wait weakside to drill threes should their men slough too much into the lane.
It’s very tough action to defend and it gets everyone doing things that they’re very good at. This is probably what David Blatt gets the least credit for – putting guys in positions that accent their skills and give them the best chance to succeed.
It will be interesting to see these particularly pick and roll matchups as the playoffs get going and teams take a few stabs at stopping them.
Marion in Exile
When the defense didn’t work at all, Coach David Blatt stuck Marion with the starters at shooting guard. Despite the fact that nothing he does with the ball ever really resembles “shooting”, the guy helped turn the team’s defense around. Then, moved to the bench, he often looked like the one guy out there that truly knew where he was supposed to be.
He wasn’t always pretty out there, but he was scrappy as hell and somehow always seemed to be around the ball, particularly rebounding on both the offensive and defensive glass. Then around Christmas when the injury bug hit the team hard, he too went down, but returned when James did, helping drive the team’s winning streak
Marion played 185 minutes those first 11 games after James returned. Then since the beginning of February he’s seen 62 minutes of play. Some of that was a lingering hip injury that has marred what’s supposed to be his final NBA season. Now that he’s apparently more-or-less healthy, he’s lost his seat at the table.
James Jones is the new three-point shooting SF/PF, and he’s a much better shooter than Marion, who looks more like he passing the ball to the hoop than shooting. He’s a much better rebounder than Jones and potentially a better defender though Jones has actually been better in the post, surprisingly.
Marion’s 11th percentile against post-up, Jones is 16th. In case you’re wondering other Cavs post-up defense ratings: Shumpert (14th), James (28th), Mozgov (40th) Thompson (61st), Irving (77th), Love (80th), Varejao (89th).
During the postgame presser Blatt put dirt on the hopes of anyone seeing Marion get meaningful minutes short of an injury.
“Just the way we’re rolling right now we’re going with what we’ve been doing so well,” he said. “It’s not to shade a bad light on what Shawn brings to the table. But the way we’ve played has been successful and that’s what we’re going with.”
It’s a shame because Marion’s savvy and defensive skills are remarkable, particularly given the mileage on his body. There are times we’d rather see him than Jones out there, but there’s no disputing a hot hand, and Jones has had it. He’s shot 42% from 3 since the all-star break and 43% on the road where the team’s particularly struggled shooting from distance.
Nothing’s ever written in stone about Blatt’s rotations, but nobody should be waiting on any ‘Trix.
We’ll be at the Easter game against the Chicago Bulls. We’ll be tweeting and posting live video from the game. You can find a breakdown Monday on the Scene blog, where you can find my columns more-or-less every weekday (and weekends after games). You can find all my writing at chrisparker.contently.com.