Three-point shooting seems to be all the rage in the NBA these days.
It's not only the quickest way to mount a dramatic comeback, but also serves as a valuable momentum builder (or killer) when used effectively.
The world champion San Antonio Spurs led the NBA in three-point percentage (39.7 percent), and 11 of the 14 top deep-shooting teams reached the playoffs. The six worst three-point shooting squads all missed out on the postseason.
Clearly, a team's ability to knock down the three-ball has a direct effect on its success.
For the Cleveland Cavaliers, they were stuck somewhere in three-point purgatory last season.
The Cavs finished 18th in the league at 35.6 percent, besting only four out of 16 playoff teams.
General manager David Griffin outlined his plan for the Cavs this May, telling Matthew Florjancic of WKYC Cleveland:
I'd like us to be a better shooting team and we need to address our fit. The fit of our roster needs to be pieces that make sense. We've got ball-dominant drive-and-kick creators. We need to be able to open the floor for them. We also probably need a little more ability to play from the inside out to make our team a little more balanced.
Now a few months later with some draft picks and free agents added to the mix, have the Cavaliers acquired enough shooters, or is there more work yet to be done?
Importance of the Deep Ball
Slowly but surely, the quality of outside shooting in the NBA has gone up.
The three-point line was first introduced before the 1979-80 season, per NBA.com. That year, the league average was just 28 percent, with teams typically making less than one per game.
By the late 1990's, teams were averaging 4.5 makes a game on 33.9 percent shooting. A nice increase, but still a far cry from where we are today.
In 2013-14, an NBA record 7.7 three-pointers were made on average, with the success rate up to 36.0 percent.
So, where do the Cavs need to be?
Unless they can somehow acquire a dominant big man, quite a bit higher.
Almost every champion was at least top-11 in league-wide three-point shooting. The only exceptions being the Lakers (Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum) and 2005-06 Heat (Shaquille O'Neal) who had the luxury of quality post-up big men.
Here's where the other seven champions ranked in three-point percentage during their title seasons:
Ideally, Cleveland should aspire to be at least a top-10 team from deep.
That would mean making an eight-spot jump and an increase of around 1.6 percent, based on the previous year's rankings, via ESPN.com.
We have an idea of where the Cavs need to be, but is the roster good enough to get them there?
Unfortunately for the Cavs, some of their best three-point shooters just walked out the open free-agency door.
C.J. Miles, who set the Cavaliers' single-game franchise record with 10 made treys last season, bolted for the Indiana Pacers.
Cleveland's best remaining deep threats are Dion Waiters (36.8 percent), Matthew Dellavedova (36.8 percent), Kyrie Irving (35.8 percent) and Anthony Bennett (24.5 percent).
While these numbers are all remarkably average, they can be considered a bit skewed. In Mike Brown's isolation-heavy offense, players often had to take contested three-pointers and spent less time shooting off screens.
David Blatt's Princeton offense should automatically bump up everyone's percentages, as he loves ball movement, screening for shooters and finding the open man. Here's a quick tidbit about Blatt's love for the three-ball from a previous article:
Last season with Maccabi, 36 percent of the team's field goals were three-pointers. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, only took 23.5 percent of their shots from outside. Maccabi didn't just fire away blindly, however. It made a whopping 39 percent of its three-pointers, a number that would have ranked second in the NBA behind only the San Antonio Spurs.
Improvements should be expected throughout the roster thanks to Blatt's system and the signing of LeBron James. James is consistently double-teamed when he drives the lane, opening up shooters around him.
Irving's low percentage last season under Brown should not reflect the quality of his shot. He had conversion rates from downtown of 39.9 percent and 39.1 percent, respectively, during his rookie and sophomore seasons under Byron Scott. Irving also won the NBA's Three-Point Contest in 2013.
Waiters' catch-and-shoot opportunities should increase next to James. This should help his game as well, as Waiters shot 41.9 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities last season compared to 38.9 percent when he pulled up, via NBA.com/stats.
An early leading candidate for most improved outside shooter has to be Bennett, however. Before dropping weight and getting regular playing time last season, Bennett made just four of his first 28 three-point attempts, or 14.3 percent. From late January on, Bennett nailed nine of 25, good for 36 percent.
Although he only made 4-of-16 three-pointers during summer league, Bennett's shot looked smoother and more confident. With some more time and development, Bennett could certainly add a reliable three-point shot to his arsenal.
The loss of Hawes and Miles may hurt, but the rest of the Cavaliers should be improved in Blatt's system next to James.
Here's a list of the notable players Cleveland has brought on board already this offseason with their average three-point makes and percentage from the previous year:
- LeBron James, 1.5, 37.9 percent
- Mike Miller, 1.3, 45.9 percent
- James Jones, 1.4, 51.9 percent
- Andrew Wiggins, 1.2, 34.1 percent (Kansas)
- Joe Harris, 1.9, 40.0 percent (Virginia)
Of this group, only one player (Wiggins) shot below the NBA average for three-point percentage (36.0 percent) last year. All others were slightly or way above average.
These acquisitions definitely weren't by accident.
While Cleveland would have welcomed James back even if he had missed every single long shot last season, the signings of Miller and Jones were made with the team's need for outside shooting in mind (and no, it didn't hurt that they were former teammates of James', either).
Griffin wanted a better shooting team, and he certainly addressed that need this summer.
If we average out the three-point shooting success of James, Irving, Waiters, Miller, Jones, Bennett and Dellavedova from last season alone, the number comes to 38.5 percent. That would have ranked Cleveland second behind the Spurs a season ago.
It's worth noting that this percentage does not reflect the total amount of shots, nor does it project an increase for the returning Cavaliers.
There's also the unknown of how Wiggins and Harris will perform during their rookie seasons, not to mention the remaining role players.
While players like Miller (45.9 percent) and Jones (51.9 percent) may not hit those high marks again, one has to hope Bennett (24.5 percent) won't be that bad again, either.
As it stands, the Cavaliers' outside shooting will be greatly improved and may not need another gunner. If they did choose to add one, it should be in the frontcourt, given the limited range of players like Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson.
Do the Cavs need more shooting?
Probably not, but as we've seen before, outside success does have a direct effect on a team's overall performance.
Cleveland won't know for sure until the season starts, but they can take solace in the fact that they'll at least be much improved from a season ago.
All stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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