Trend Spotting: The Cavaliers’ starting five, spacing and more shot charts

The inevitable has finally occurred; Kevin Love is headed to Cleveland for a package centered around No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins with the addition of an upside gamble in Anthony Bennett and a protected first round pick.

Avoiding any sort of transaction-based analysis for the time being, it is a relatively obvious and an easy assumption to make that the 2014 Cavaliers are better for it, probably significantly so. The question is: what does it change? How will it specifically affect the Cavaliers offensively?

While questions like these are inherently complex due to the mechanized harmony necessary for a good offense in the NBA, we can, in many ways, understand whether or not certain players offer complementary skill-sets, specifically when it comes to their own ability to score the basketball from different places on the floor.

Unfortunately for readers in search of varying insights or at least data outlays,  I am currently obsessed with the shooting data that Nylon Calculus provides. It is certainly worth anyone’s time to pour through the data if they have any spare moments for such things, which if you are reading our site — you do.

Digressing, or at least progressing through my thoughts, I believe this data is useful because it helps us visually conceptualize shooting in a way that we never have before. Shot chart data collected over a full season is incredibly valuable as we have rarely seen it presented to such scale. Secondarily, it allows us to move beyond simple assumption about a player’s shot selection. For instance, if Ray Allen took a three-pointer in 2014, we would generally make the assertion that it was an efficient shot choice due to his ability at three-point range. This location data offers us the ability to highlight areas on the court where he needs to avoid to be efficient; hence ,its inclusion and emphasis throughout this piece.

A few pieces are worth noting before meandering through red and blue bubbles. I am obviously looking merely at shot spacing, accepting that effective offensive teams are far more complex than mere spacing outlays. Secondarily, while shooting hot spots are generally continual from year to year, there is obviously some ebb and flow to the data, but I will generally rely on single seasons for this data.

Lastly, I am projecting the most frequent unit or first team unit with the understanding that it may indeed not be David Blatt’s favorite unit by the seasons’ end. The unit I am currently projecting as the first unit is Kyrie Irving PG, Dion Waiters SG, Lebron James multiple position savant, Kevin Love PF, and Anderson Varejeo C though these traditional “positions” may be too passé for many, including head coach David Blatt.

Let us begin with the oft-criticized, always exciting star guard Kyrie Irving. Excuse me for the opening cherry-picking where I use Irving’s 2012-2013 data. Early in that season, he looked like a potential 50-40-90 guy, which still exists especially when he will not be the only offensive player opposing coaches scheme for.


In terms of meshing effectively with teammates, this version of Irving is pretty efficient from a large portion of the court. When overlaid with last season’s data, we see heightened comfort from the left wing and straightaway from long distance. Digressing, the mid-range game is a true asset for Irving, as he is efficient at a relatively inefficient shot.  Nevertheless, Irving’s mid-range success near the baseline-wing areas on both sides is an asset for this Cavs team as well as his great range from downtown.

While Irving is very adept at getting to the rim and finishing with touch and relative flair, his ability to both finish and pass from dribble penetration, can and will improve.

Waiters 2014

I, like many, have developed Dion Waiter hubris, a sickness which infects its patients with delirious expectations of improvement when surrounded by Kevin Love, Lebron James and Kyrie Irving. Perhaps it has become relatively absurd, but it is hard not to foresee substantive improvement from the third-year guard out of Syracuse.

For a more cogent and perhaps rational thoughts surrounding Dion’s outlook for 2014-2015, take a look at this piece from a few weeks ago.


While some skills are innate, and LeBron James the physical specimen is a once in a lifetime freak of nature that we get to experience, this understanding often overshadows his basketball intellect.

The case in point being the corner three, which I accept that I harp on too frequently but its inherent value as a skill in floor spacing is immense. LeBron understands its value and as a genius, never satisfied with is abilities he added the corner three. LeBron, upon entering the league while elite around the rim, was not an adequate shooter, but he faced his small imperfections and added a killer shot from three, making him a freakish scorer inside and out as well as being even more valuable to the team-basketball concept.


As a scorer, Kevin Love’s shot charts are impressive of course but not overwhelming. Yet, that is separating out what makes him uniquely valuable. Love became a remarkably strong interior passer in 2014, averaging 4.5 assists per game and assisting on 21 percent of his teammates buckets while on the floor.

There are a few things which Love’s skill set offers that will be tremendously fun to watch and also very useful. The first is his outlet passing, though having a good rebounder is one thing, a good rebounder who helps start fast-breaks is another. Love has an otherworldly ability to start the break with a quick outlet pass out following a rebound, and with Irving, Waiters and LeBron, the Cavaliers’ fast-break will be unbelievable.

The second piece is Love’s inside-and-out game, which offers LeBron the chance to have fun and be creative. Ostensibly, Love, while anchoring rebounding on the defensive end, can move in and out with LeBron on the offensive end, depending on who wants to work the post, a fairly optimal scenario.

In many ways, Love helps LeBron to do the things which he enjoys most — push the floor, which he couldn’t do with last years Heat and move in and out of the post as he chooses due to Love’s perimeter skill. It’s a wonderful match.


Lastly, we touch on Anderson Varejao, the surprisingly good set shooter from the elbows and left wing. Ultimately, Varejao will never be more than an adequate scorer, but he is versatile and not reliant on the blocks for his scoring ability. This allows both Kevin Love and LeBron to set up on the blocks and not infringe on Varejao’s ability to be an offensive player, thus his hot spots are fairly valuable on this particular roster.

Though there is oscillation to shooting strengths from year to year as well as a necessary period of time to become comfortable with one’s teammates it is relatively clear that this team, at least from a shooting perspective, offers a nice balance of skills. Time will tell how the units may mesh or not mesh, but with LeBron’s basketball intellect, Love’s feel for the game and David Blatt’s offensive creativity, this team could shoot the lights out at a historic pace.

A final thought, whether this is a title team, we have no certainty. I do know that we should appreciate LeBron, enjoy his talent for his time is fleeting and his abilities are unmatched. Do not be bored by their success but celebrate their beauty for it will be a wonderful ride.

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