One Team, Three Stats: Cleveland Cavaliers launch frequently and efficiently from downtown

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

After winning their first championship, you might have thought the Cleveland Cavaliers would cruise through the 2016-17 regular season. But after 26 games, the Cavs hold a two-game lead in the loss column atop the Eastern Conference and have already won the tiebreaker with the second-place Toronto Raptors.

And rather than take an extra conservative approach to their stars’ minutes, the Cavs have played one of the league’s shortest rotations, using only nine guys (with no back-up point guard) in close games. LeBron James has had a couple of days off (and the Cavs have played the fewest games in the league), but is averaging more minutes per game (37.3) than he did in either of the last two seasons. After Tuesday’s overtime win in Milwaukee, James is up to 39.5 minutes per game in December, second most in the league.

Still, the Cavs’ schedule has yet to get very grueling. They’ve played the fewest games in the league and 15 of their 26 have been at home. They’re playing 34 of their first 35 games in Eastern Conference arenas and don’t their first game in the Mountain or Pacific time zones until Jan. 8.

The Basics – Cleveland Cavaliers (20-6)

Pace: 98.5 (18th)

OffRtg: 111.4 (3rd)

DefRtg: 104.3 (16th)

NetRtg: +7.0 (5th)

Cavs links: Team stats | Player stats | Player shooting | Lineups

The Cavs’ game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET) is the second game of a home-and-home and the first of NBA TV’s doubleheader.

Here are a few numbers to know about the Cavs so far …

No. 1

The Cavs rank second in both 3-point percentage and attempts per game.

No team can match their combination of volume and efficiency from beyond the arc. Only 10 teams have shot 40 percent from 3-point range over a full season. Last season’s Golden State Warriors shot 41.6 percent on 31.6 attempts per game and none of the other nine took more than 21.6 per game.

Cleveland is at 40.2 percent through Tuesday on 33.6 attempts per game. Both the Cavs (1,107) and Houston Rockets (1,196) are on pace to break last season’s Warriors record of 1,077 made threes in a season.

This a continuation of a transformation that the Cavs underwent over the course of last season. They went from taking 34 percent of their shots from 3-point range before the All-Star break to 38 percent after the All-Star break, and then 41 percent in the first three rounds of the playoffs.

This season, the Cavs have taken 40 percent of their shots from 3-point range. And they’re making 40 percent of those 3s with their most prolific shooter – J.R. Smith – shooting only 36 percent.

While Smith’s 3-point percentage has dropped and Mike Dunleavy has yet to shoot well with the Cavs, Channing Frye, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Iman Shumpert have all shot better from 3-point range than they did last season. Among 206 players who took at least 300 shots last year and have taken at least 100 shots this season, Shumpert has seen the fourth biggest increase in effective field-goal percentage (behind only Danny Green, Nick Young and Rudy Gobert). And almost all of Shumpert’s improvement has come from his 3-point volume and 3-point percentage, which has gone from 29.5 percent to 41.9 percent.

Frye (third), Irving (15th), Shumpert (19th) and Love (24th) all rank in the top 25 in 3-point percentage. James surrounded by shooters is a pick-your-poison situation for any defense. If you help off James, he has the ability to get the ball to the open shooter from anywhere on the floor. He not only has great vision, but he’s the strongest cross-court passer in the league.

James has assisted (10 different teammates) on 124 3-pointers this season. That mark ranks second to James Harden (146), but Harden has played five more games. James has averaged 5.2 assists on threes per game, while Harden has averaged 5.0. At those rates, if both players were to play the remainder of their team’s games (James surely won’t), they’d each assist on more than 400 threes this season. We have assists on threes going back to the 1996-97 season, and the highest mark in the 20 years since was 284 by Steve Nash in 2004-05.

James himself is shooting more threes and shooting them better. After shooting 30.9 percent on 3.7 attempts per game last season, he’s shooting 36.8 percent on 4.8 attempts per game this season. The percentage is the third highest mark of his career, while the attempts are the fifth highest mark of his career.

Only eight teams in NBA history have had a higher effective field goal percentage (over a full season) than the Cavs’ mark of 54.2 percent. But that mark ranks only third this season. The Cavs have found an offensive formula that’s near impossible to stop, but they’ve only been the third best offensive team in the league, which says a lot about the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors.

No. 2

The Cavs have grabbed 74.5 percent of available defensive rebounds (sixth worst mark in the league), down from 78.5 percent (fifth best) last season.

That’s the league’s biggest drop-off in defensive rebounding percentage. League-wide, as coaches have put greater stress on transition defense over second chances, offensive rebounding percentage has dropped each of the last five years. This season, it’s at an all-time low of 23.5 percent.

But the Cavs have taken a step backward in regard to cleaning the glass. As a result, they’ve allowed 15.5 second chance points per game (second most), up from 11.2 (third fewest) last season. Take away those additional 4.3 and they’d rank second in defensive efficiency (at 100.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) instead of 16th (104.3).

The Cavs have grabbed 76.4 percent of available rebounds (a rate which would rank 15th in the league) with both Love and Tristan Thompson on the floor. But as one of their starting bigs goes to the bench, their ability to finish possessions off has taken a hit. Their defensive rebounding percentage is just 74.2 percent with only one of Love or Thompson on the floor and 71.1 percent with both on the bench.

That last number would rank last in the league by a wide margin, but shouldn’t be too much of a concern. A look at the Cavs’ on-off numbers shows that their defensive rebounding percentage is lowest with their non-rotation players on the floor. And a look at their by-quarter numbers shows that their defensive rebounding percentage is worst in the fourth quarter. There’s definitely a garbage-time factor in their defensive rebounding drop-off.

Still, their defensive rebounding can be better in their regular rotation minutes. With how good their offense has been, the Cavs haven’t needed to be a great defensive team yet. But since the league started counting turnovers in 1977, only three of 39 champions have ranked outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season.

There will come a time, maybe not until June, when the Cavs will need to get stops. And a stop isn’t complete until the rebound is secured.

No. 3

The Cavs have been the best first-quarter team in the league, outscoring their opponents by 17.6 points per 100 possessions in the opening 12 minutes.

The Cavs’ third-ranked offense has been most potent in the first quarter, scoring 118.7 points per 100 possessions. James (effective field goal percentage of 58.0 percent in the first quarter), Love (59.8 percent) and Smith (60.0 percent) have all shot best in the opening 12 minutes. Smith’s effective field goal percentage has dropped from 60.0 percent in the first quarter to just 38.5 percent in quarters 2-4.

The Cavs have also been the league’s third best defensive rebounding team in the first quarter. Their rebounding issues usually don’t present themselves until later in the game.

When you’re playing one of the league’s best teams, you might hope to catch them sleeping early and play from ahead. The Cavs are just 2-6 after trailing by double-digits.

But they’ve rarely put themselves in an early hole. Only twice in their 26 games have they trailed by more than six points after the first quarter. They’ve led by more than six after the first quarter 12 times.

After Tuesday’s win in Milwaukee, the Cavs are 20-1 in games they’ve led by 10 or more points and they’ve had a double-digit lead in the first quarter in 13 of their 26 games.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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