The playoffs have proven one thing, the Cleveland Cavaliers need to move away from hero ball.
Watching the Boston Celtics choke away a chance to go to the NBA Finals was a very eye-opening experience as a Cleveland Cavaliers fan. See, we saw the same thing happen to the Cavs in the first round, a team over-reliant on one or two players to score their offense, only to be bounced out of the playoffs by a better “team”.
And sadly, the team that beat the Cavs, the New York Knicks isn’t a great team by comparison. A lot of why the Cavs failed to win was due to the limited offense the Cavs put on the court. They over-relied on one player and the Knicks were able to key on that.
In their first-round loss to the Knicks, Donovan Mitchell averaged 20 shots per game, Darius Garland averaged 16 shots per game, and Caris LeVert averaged just over 12.6, and that’s it for players that averaged 10 or more shots per game against the Knicks. Cedi Osman and Jarrett Allen averaged just five, and seven shots respectively.
Yet, the Heat had four players with at least 10 shots per game (Jimmy Butler, Caleb Martin, Bam Adebayo, and Gabe Vincent. Max Strus (7.8) didn’t get a lot of shots early on, nor did Duncan Robinson (7.7) but when Butler struggled to score, the Heat turned to them. In four of his last five games of the Eastern Conference Finals, Strus averaged 8.5 shots per game, while Robinson lept to 9.5 per game in four of his last five.
Robinson was the team’s sixth or seventh-best scorer, and he averaged more over that last stretch of games than Evan Mobley did.
Why? Because the Cavs favored letting Mitchell control the offense. What’s worse, is Mitchell, who is not a good three-point shooter, shot a three 43% of the time. His conversion rate? Just 29%. Yet the Cavs constantly tried to win games by playing through Mitchell. They can’t do that anymore. Not in today’s NBA. The era of the hero ball is dead, and Nikola Jokic and Jimmy Butler killed it.
Three things the Cleveland Cavaliers have to do better in 2023-2024
The Cleveland Cavaliers have to spread around shots more. Danny Green and Cedi Osman are actually pretty solid three-point shooters, better than Mitchell, so if you’re going to try and out-shoot a team, why are you feeding Mitchell? His contract is massive but nowhere in it is a Hulk Hogan-like stipulation that says he has to take the most three’s on the team.
Yes, he shot 38% from three in the regular season, but when a star struggles, it’s time to adjust the game plan. Move away from Mitchell shooting nine three-pointers a game, and either have him attack the basket or kick out to a shooter.
The Knicks were able to key too often on Mitchell and it made the Cavs one-dimensional. It’s hard to say that the Cavs weren’t good enough to beat the Knicks, because, in all honesty, we never saw what this roster could truly do.
This goes hand in hand with the next thing to stop doing; limit Mitchell’s three-point shot. At best, he’s an average three-point shooter. Have him kick out the ball more often to guys like Green and Osman (if they come back) or even Garland, because his game isn’t Steph Curry’s, so I don’t know why Mitchell is shooting just two fewer three-pointers a game than Curry.
That needs to stop.
Lastly, no more hero ball. Mitchell should not have nearly 30 more shots than Darius Garland. Garland’s a better shooter than Mitchell, and at the very least, they should be around the same number of attempts.
Guys like Mobley and Jarrett Allen needed a ton more attempts as well. The whole offense needs more attempts. Primarily leaning on just one or two guys is not going to be how you win a lot of games. Yes, it worked in 2016 but that was more of a fluke outing than anything. Even the Kobe and Shaq Lakers couldn’t have won without clutch shooting from guys like Rob Horry.
No more hero ball in 2023. Build an offense that flows constantly and isn’t limited by what Mitchell and to a lesser extent Garland are able to give you from the floor.