Make Your Layups

By William Ezekowitz

Making layups is what Ty Lue’s Cavs do best. Under David Blatt, the Cavs shot a perfectly respectable 60% on layups. Since Lue took over, though, the Cavs have shot 64.7% from five feet and in, a mark that was only topped, weirdly, by the Minnesota Timberwolves, who shot 65.1% in that time period. The Cavs top the leaderboard in this category (or, I guess, not technically—stupid Timberwolves, ruining my point), and in no other major offensive category, so shooting a high percentage on layups is one of the ways they separate themselves from everyone else offensively (except the Timberwolves). It helps to have LeBron James, who made the most shots from 5 feet and in per game this season, 6.4, and also managed to shoot 71% from that distance in the Lue era.

With that in mind, here’s a fun stat: in games 1 and 2, the Cavs shot 49% from 5 feet and in and the Warriors shot 64%. Since then, the Cavs are shooting 63% and the Warriors are the ones at 49%. My fellow HSAC member Adam Gilfix has long touted the amazingly simplistic, but informative stat that whoever shoots better from three-point range wins the game. I’m here to remind you that lay-ups are important too!

Two big reasons for the turnaround have been LeBron and Tristan Thompson, both of whom have turned it around from 5 feet and in in the past for games. The following table has their percentages from 5 feet and in across relevant time periods.

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Based on this table, according to expected value, a LeBron James or Tristan Thompson lay-up in the past four games has been just as potent as a Splash Brothers three. For a team that hangs its hat on making its lay-ups, this has been crucially important, albeit not as sexy.

Obviously, there are other factors affecting this. More run-outs and smoothly run offense are two major causes of the turnaround, so this lay-up stat is, to a certain extent, an indicator of the Cavs’ higher percentage shot attempts. But you get paid to make the shot, not get in a great position to make it. The Cavs, specifically, LeBron and Tristan Thompson, have been making those shots at their best clips when it’s mattered most, and that could be the difference in these Finals.

So, basketball curmudgeons, rejoice! And, kids, keep practicing those fundamentals. If you want to win the NBA Finals, you’re going to have to make your lay-ups.

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