We are unveiling a new pregame series at Project Spurs, where Quixem Ramirez dives into the San Antonio Spurs' opposing team's SportVU data, mostly because he has no life. SportVU, powered by cameral technology in all 29 NBA arenas, tracks miles per hour, distance traveled, touches, where they touched the ball, how long they touch the ball, and lots of other basketball minutia.
Today's team: the Cleveland Cavaliers. DISCLAIMER: If you do not like numbers, do not read ahead.
Kyrie Irving has regressed a tad.
When Cleveland added Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark and Anthony Bennett in the offseason, many people assumed Irving would make an enormous leap and Cleveland would win games and sign LeBron James and live happily ever after and have kids and die old and whatever.
That leap hasn't happened.
Irving is assisting on 38 percent of his teammates' possessions when he's on the floor, a marked improvement, but he still is a haphazard defender, to the point where Cleveland's defense depreciates into a below-average defense as soon as he steps on the floor.
That's not why Irving is a good player though — his value derives from his off the bounce creativity, since Cleveland does not have many other reliable options to pick up his slack.
But Irving is driving to the hoop nearly nine times per game with meager success, according to SportVU. He's made 35.9 percent of his shot attempts on drives. For reference, James Harden has scored more points than Irving on 38 fewer drives. Cleveland is still scoring about 10 points per game via Irving's aggression, to be fair.
Irving's field goal percentage on 2-pointers has dipped for a third consecutive season — namely in the restricted area, where Irving is making just 54.4 percent of his shots. Irving is also taking a bunch of awkward in-between shots, just outside the restricted area, and making them at a 28 percent clip. Remember: These shots are generally the most efficient shots in basketball.
Irving turns the very idea of efficiency upside down — he's shooting 40.6 percent on pull-up shots, 40.3 percent from mid-range and 36 percent on 3-pointers above the break.
He's been successful with a healthy diet of difficult shots, mostly because he is so damn talented.
Among players averaging 70 or more touches per game, Irving is 11th in points per half court touch (0.29).
And, yet, he can still be better.
Anderson Varejao's bleh rebounding.
Last season, only Reggie Evans and Omer Asik grabbed a higher share of their team's defensive rebounds than Varejao.
This season, Tristan Thompson and Earl Clark are ahead of Varejao. Related: They are his teammates.
Varejao's defensive rebounding percentage is a career low 18.4 percent according to Basketball Reference.
The opportunities are there — Varejao is averaging 16.3 rebound chances per game according to SportVU. Among players with at least 10 chances per game — a chance is defined when a rebound ls within 3.5 feet of the player — only Jimmy Butler and Brook Lopez are converting a lower share of their chances into rebounds.
So why, exactly, is Varejao not rebounding? He's a really tall guy. That should help.
Maybe it's because he is playing a lot with Thompson, who is also a tall guy. In the 321 minutes he's shared the floor with Thompson this season, Varejao is averaging 7.9 rebounds per 36 minutes. Once you replace Thompson, Varejao averages 11.2 rebounds per 36 minutes.
For what it's worth, Cleveland has been outscored by 6.5 points per 100 possessions when Varejao and Thompson share the court. Time for a change?
Varejao's rim protection has been kinda bleh, too.
Opponents have made 56 of 91 shots (61.5 percent) when Varejao is protecting the rim according to SportVU.
Varejao is a heady player, but the rim protection numbers lump him into the same category as Al Jefferson (slow) and DeJuan Blair (bad).
Worth noting: Cleveland opponents are still making a lower percentage of their shots in the restricted area when Varejao is on the floor, so let's just chalk this up to sample size or something random.
For now. We'll check back later.
Cleveland isn't very good at finishing at the rim.
Remember the Irving paragraph? Yeah, his teammates are not particularly good at scoring in the restricted area either.
Cleveland is attempting 21.9 shots per game in the restricted area, just ahead of the last-ranked Sacramento Kings. The Kings, at the very least, are making the shots they do take.
Cleveland is making 52.6 percent of their shots in the restricted area. Miami, meanwhile, is making nearly 46 percent of their 3-pointers.
The only competent shooter in this area is Jarrett Jack. Jarrett freaking Jack.
San Antonio happens to be a stingy defense that allows a low amount of these shots, and they are generally contested heavily. Cleveland may not score a single point in the paint tonight.