The Cavaliers are locked in on defense again
The Cleveland Cavaliers had the top defensive rating for the 2022/23 season. Because the Cavs added some outside shooting in the offseason, plus the difficulty of being consistent each year in the NBA, a regression in defense was expected. After the slow start to the 2023/24 Cavaliers season, the boys have gotten their "Junkyard Dog" mentality back.
In November the Cavs' defensive rating ranked seventh overall with a rating of 111.2. For December, they took a step back with the injuries, sliding to a twelfth overall ranking and a 116.5 defensive rating. Through their five games in January, the Cavaliers are second with a defensive rating of 105.1. Despite injuries, the Cavs returned to form as a league leader on defense.
The combination of better team rebounding and an improving defensive rating allows for easy buckets on the other end of the court.
Cleveland's "Bombs Away" is making the difference
A stylistic change in the Cavaliers' offense since the injuries in December has been the emphasis on three-point shooting, with a November average of 30.1 three-point attempts per game (ranked 27th), a December average of 41.2 three-point attempts (third), and a January average of 39.6 3-point attempts (third). This drastic alteration has not come by accident. Cleveland has trusted in their depth for a spark from deep and has been rewarded for the change.
This offensive shift only works if you are making these attempts at a good clip. Luckily for the Cavaliers, they have been knocking down the three with some regularity. In November they made 35 percent of their three-pointers (ranked 24th), in December 34.9 percent (25th), and in January 38.9 percent (sixth). Over their eleven-game stretch without Mobley and Garland, five Cavs - Mitchell, LeVert, Merrill, Wade and Niang - have shot at least 35 percent from deep, including both Caris LeVert and Sam Merrill eclipsing 40 percent.
Three-point shooting also creates longer rebounds, and even though the Cavaliers are not elite from beyond the arc, their offensive rebounding allows for second-chance points that can keep them competitive going forward. With the return of Garland and Mobley on the horizon, the Cavaliers can hopefully keep these aspects of their game into the final half of the regular season.