There has been a lot of talk over the last several weeks over whether the Cavs have been the victim of biased officiating, especially when it comes to foul calls. It is worth looking at the shooting numbers to determine whether this is the case. Hoopdata helps out here. A few numbers jump out immediately.
The Cavs average 21.8 free throw attempts per game for a 25.9% free throw rate, or free throws/field goal attempts. This is tied with three teams for 17th in the league. Not a great number, but certainly not conspiracy theory level.
Breaking down the Cavs’ shooting by shot location tells a different story. Most fouls come at the rim or within 3-9 feet from the basket. If you’re going to get to the line, attacking the basket is the best way to do it (further discussion of this correlation and its relevancy is warranted, but a subject for another article).
• At the rim: Attempts, 26.3 (9th), FG% 57.7 (30th), Assist% 45.3 (30th)
• 3-9 feet: Attempts, 8.3 (21st), FG% 30.3 (30th), Assist% 45.8 (12th)
• 10-15 feet: Attempts, 6 .0 (16th), FG% 41.9 (12th), Assist% 32.6 (25th)
• 16-23 feet: Attempts, 18.4 (15th), FG% 37.2 (17th), Assist% 57.3 (23rd)
• 3 Pointers: Attempts, 21.7 (10th), FG% 35.6 (12th), Assist% 86.4 (8th)
Conclusion: The Cavs are really bad around the basket. Despite being 9th in attempts, they are last in field goal percentage. One might think that perhaps they are getting jobbed by the refs until one looks at their assist% which is dead last in the league. There is a correlation between assist percentage and field goal percentage around the rim. Most of the fact that the Cavs are so bad around the rim is not because they’re not getting foul calls, it’s because they’re not finding open guys near the basket. Furthermore, the Cavs aren’t excessively good at offensive rebounding. They’re 10th in the league with a rate of 29.4. Denver attempts 35 shots per game around the rim, has an offensive rebound rate at 32.47 (best in the league), and still shoots 66.8% at the rim (8th). Yes, there is a thought that the Cavs could be getting fouled, getting offensive rebounds, and then getting fouled again, but I think the more likely culprit is that unassisted forays to the rim are more likely to get blocked (The cavs are 4th worst in the league at getting their shot blocked, at a rate of 7.8%) and less likely to get foul calls.
3-9 feet from the basket paints a similarly rough story. The Cavs’ FG% here is abysmal, even though their assist% is respectable. A lot of blocks are probably coming from here, and the Cavs are really bad at these shots.
10-15 feet seems to be the Cavs sweet spot. They shoot a respectable 41.1% (12th) from here. They are 25th in assist% from here, so obviously this is the result of a lot of pullup jumpers.
Simply put, there’s no overwhelming evidence that the Cavs are getting any more or less calls than anyone else. They’re simply really bad at finishing and passing around the basket.
This leads to an interesting question. Just how bad are the Cavs on offense? Let’s take a look.
• 98.3 Offensive efficiency rating (28th).
• 54.8 Assisted field goal% (27th) . Of the top 10 offenses in the league, only New York has an assist rate below 57%.
• 50.3 True shooting % (28th) the correlation between TS% and efficiency is extremely high.
• 25.9 Free throw rate (17th)
• 74.2 FT% (21st). This is up from 71.6% last year (28th). And has been much better of late. Much of this is due to Tristan Thompson’s much improved free throw shooting.
• 13.88 Turnover rate (16th)
• 7.8 Blocked rate (27th)
• 29.4 Offensive rebound rate (10th)
The Cavs are a very bad shooting and passing team, which leads to them being a very bad offensive team.
• 105.9 Defensive Efficiency (28th)
• 62.2 Opponent Assisted FG% (26th)
• 55.8 Opponent TS (30th)
• 31.7 Opponent free throw rate (29th)
• 14.9 Opponent turnover rate (3rd)
• 3.7 Block rate (30th)
• 72.56 Defensive rebound rate (21st)
Yikes. The Cavs are a team that gambles a lot on defense. This leads to a very high turnover rate for the defense, but a lot of wide open looks and fouls, leading to a dreadful combination of free throws, fouls, and threes. It’s a mess.
The comment was made earlier this week that Chris Grant acquires players based on advanced statistics, but that Byron Scott does not allocate minutes based on advanced statistics. I’ve waxed and waned endlessly over the questions, “Is this by design?” “Are the Cavs trying to lose?” “Or is Byron Scott this incompetent?” The Cavs are bad enough that a minor change at certain positions like playing Omri Casspi more, or Luke Walton less, might help, but those suggestions might just be putting lipstick on a Moondog. I wrote an article earlier this year encouraging everyone to trust the process — that this painting was going to be ugly before it was beautiful. I have to keep telling myself that, because in the moment this team is tough to watch. There may only be a core of only 3-6 players that will be on the Cavs beyond this year. Unfortunately, I fear that those players are developing some very bad habits, as can be evidenced by these stats. They seem to be consistently put in a position to fail. Who bears responsibility for this? I leave it to the commentariat, but I’ll cast my blame on the head coach. As input for a future article, I’d like to know who you’d like to see coaching our favorite team. If it remains Coach Scott, please tell us why.