When LeBron James announced that he would be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers last Friday, the team automatically became bound for the playoffs. However, in order to become a legitimate title contender, the team needed to add more veteran leadership, outside shooting and presence inside the paint. Just recently they crossed the first two off the list by adding Mike Miller and James Jones, both of whom played for the Miami Heat during LeBron’s tenure.
Miller, 34, and Jones, 33, are known outside marksmen who have been in the league for quite some time. They will improve the Cavs’ spacing with their abilities to consistently make shots and they will help in the locker room, as both have been in the playoffs numerous times and have won two NBA Championships. With the exception of Anderson Varejao and LeBron, the team is filled with young players with no playoff experience. Jones and Miller will help mentor and guide the team through the season and into the playoffs, if the team advances that far.
Last year, the Cleveland Cavaliers were 18th in the league in three-point percentage. Being in the bottom half of the league again this year will not be the championship level this team desires. The San Antonio Spurs led the league in that category, and anyone who watched the NBA Finals this June could see how vital three-point shooting was for the Spurs during their five-game dismantling of LeBron’s Heat. As a team, San Antonio converted 46.6 percent of their deep ball attempts. The Heat made 39.7 percent. It didn’t matter if it was a pull-up in transition or passing the ball around the perimeter and launching one deep into the shot clock, the Spurs devastated Miami’s defense with their long-range assault. The ability to space the floor and knock down shots is something that is a necessity when you have a player like LeBron, who requires excess defensive attention. The Spurs’ spacing and long-range abilities were a huge piece to the championship puzzle that they completed last season.
The Heat finished in the top 10 in three-point shooting during LBJ’s four seasons in South Beach, and clearly the additions of Jones and Miller show that the Cleveland Cavaliers understand the importance of having sharpshooters on the perimeter to play alongside James. But beyond the two new additions, who else do the Cavs have that can effectively spread the floor and knock down the three? Good question. Let’s take a look at some of the Cavaliers perimeter players, including Miller and Jones, and see what they bring to the table in terms of spacing and three-point shooting.
Mike Miller, SF/SG:
Miller will do wonders for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ spacing during this upcoming season. The 14-year veteran is a career 40.9 percent shooter from downtown, and he has great chemistry with LeBron. Miller’s best spot to shoot from is the right wing. Analyzing his shot chart from last season shows that clearly:
Most of this shot chart is red and orange squares. That is a great sign, because those are the locations of where Miller shot better than the league average. Although the right wing might have been his best spot, you can see that there are only a few places on the perimeter where he is bellow league average. And that works well because by waiting in that right wing spot while LeBron, or even Kyrie Irving, penetrates to the rim; he is in perfect position to catch a kick-out pass and launch a three. He shot 48.1 percent on catch and shoot threes last year, a highly impressive mark. He will really be an upgrade over any spot-up shooter the Cleveland Cavaliers had last year. There is no doubt he will be the team’s best perimeter shooter throughout the 2014-15 season if he can stay healthy.
James Jones, SF/SG:
Jones is very similar to Miller. Both will come off the bench next season, provide some veteran presence in practice and in the locker room and, finally, they both will shoot the lights out. Jones and Miller were very complimentary of each other during their tenures with Miami. Although long distance specialists, they excel from different spots on the court. Take a look at Jones’ shot chart:
Last season in particular, Jones was well above the league average on three-point shots from the corner. Miller, as noted above, was better all around the perimeter, but specifically on the wings. This difference will allow them to play on the floor together because they won’t need to stand in the same spot on the perimeter. Each can camp out in their respective hot spots, maintaining the necessary spacing, and wait for a kick-out pass. Where Jones struggles to shoot well from, Miller will pick up his slack and not miss a beat. The two will make for a nice combination this year again, just like they did together in Miami.
Dion Waiters, SG:
In both of his two professional seasons, roughly a quarter of Dion’s shots came from three-point range. The difference between the two seasons is that he was much more efficient during his sophomore campaign, raising his percentage from 31.0 percent to 36.8 percent. The improvement is easy to see when comparing his shot charts. Here is the one from his rookie season:
The left corner was a spot where Dion struggled, shooting near 24.0 percent, which puts him way below the league average. And on the rest of the perimeter, you see an ocean of blue squares, with only one spot, the left wing, proving to be a spot where Dion shot well from. Here is the shot chart from Waiters’ second season. Look at the improvement, noticeably in the left corner:
The shot charts illustrate just how much he got better last year. The left corner was his best spot on the floor to shoot from last year, but in 2012-13, you did not want him near that area shooting the ball. And the rest of the perimeter is sprinkled with squares shaded orange and yellow, basically the complete opposite of his rookie campaign. The increase in accuracy mainly steamed from higher quality looks and better judgment on when to shoot. But under the leadership of LeBron, it is reasonable to believe that both of those things will get better this season too. Dion’s bread and butter will always be slashing to rim, but if he can continue to improve his jump shot, it will go a long way in improving the overall quality of the team. LeBron will command so much of the defense’s attention that Dion will get more wide-open looks this year than he did his first two seasons combined, and that only bodes well for his improvement in 2014-15 and also beyond.
Kyrie Irving, PG:
Out of the first three players discussed, Kyrie will probably spend the most time with the ball in his hands. With that being said, the addition of The King will allow Irving to play off the ball a lot more than last year. The problem is Kyrie is better suited shooting the ball off the dribble as opposed to in catch and shoot situations. Last season, he shot 35.6 percent from the floor in catch and shoot opportunities, whereas he shot 40.6 percent otherwise. And looking at the shooting numbers in general, Kyrie took steps back last year compared to his previous two seasons. His 45.8 percent on two-point attempts and 35.8 percent from downtown both are the lowest he has ever shot, albeit on the most shot attempts. His shot chart from 2012-13, his second season in the league, indicates that he was better than most of the league from behind the three-point line:
It looks a lot like the shot chart of a player who won the three-point contest, which is what Kyrie did in his sophomore season. The shot chart from last year is surprisingly different. There is still a fair share of locations on the hardwood where Kyrie was better than the rest of the league, mostly on the left side. But on the right side, there are more spots where he struggled than before:
Kyrie will need to be become more efficient from both sides of floor. Just as there is reason to be hopeful about Dion improving even more this year, there is even more reason to be hopeful about Kyrie improving. LeBron makes players better, and that is a mark of greatness, so Kyrie should take a step forward in his three-point shooting this year and hopefully get back to the level he was in 2012-13.
Matthew Dellavedova, PG/SG:
Last season Delly opened a lot of eyes. As an undrafted free agent he was able to make the team and play more meaningful minutes throughout the year than expected. He should make the team again this year. As a rookie, he shot 36.8 percent from downtown, which was the third highest out of any first-year player. That figure is even more impressive when you consider that well over half of his shot attempts came from beyond the three-point arc. Looking at his shot chart, it is clear to see that Delly did spend a lot of time on the perimeter, but was mostly effective while there:
Granted there is a fair share of cold zones along the three-point line, Delly still has quite a few places where he excelled shooting the ball from. Now with one season of experience under his belt and the opportunity to share the court with LeBron, it is reasonable to expect a spike in Delly’s efficiency on the perimeter. The probability of a sophomore slump becomes unlikely due to the increase in talent Delly will be playing alongside. He should really contribute to this team coming off the bench again this year.
Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF:
The top pick in this past year’s draft has a handful of question marks swirling around him. One of these questions marks is whether or not Andrew Wiggins will be able to develop into a consistent threat shooting the ball. No one doubts his athleticism and ability to defend. It is not unreasonable to say that Wiggins’ ceiling as a player depends on effective his jump shot becomes. During his only season at the University of Kansas, he shot 49 percent on two-point attempts and 34 percent from beyond the three-point line. Consistency shooting the ball is Wiggins’ main struggle. He shot it well during stretches at Kansas, but he will need to consistently shoot it well at the next level. There is reason for the Cleveland Cavaliers to believe that Wiggins will develop the necessary outside shot to become a perennial All-Star. And if he does, he will become even that much more dangerous paired alongside LeBron.