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A Better Big 3: Cleveland Or Miami?

Billy Lennon |
August 9, 2014 | 4:38 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Adding Kevin Love (42) gives Cleveland another lethal offensive weapon. (David Sherman/Getty Images)
Adding Kevin Love (42) gives Cleveland another lethal offensive weapon. (David Sherman/Getty Images)
Another NBA off-season, another newly assembled “Big 3.”  The Kevin Love trade saga has officially concluded, shipping the superstar big man to Cleveland for at least one season, giving the Cavaliers a Big 3 that rivals the one assembled by the Miami Heat four years ago.  This begs the question of which Big 3 will be a better fit: the group that won four consecutive Eastern Conference titles in their tenure for the Heat, or the new, younger nucleus that is taking shape in Cleveland.

Speaking from strictly an accomplishment standpoint, the Heat’s Big 3 were head and shoulders above Cleveland’s when they joined forces. Dwyane Wade had both a Finals MVP and a league MVP award to his name, and Chris Bosh was widely considered a massive force for the Raptors, averaging 24 points on 52-percent shooting for a horrible Raptors team in which he was the offensive focal point, as defenses focused on stopping him.  He’s also an excellent free throw shooter, a talent that comes at a premium for NBA big men.

Meanwhile, the only member of Cleveland’s new super-core that has so much as a playoff appearance to his name is LeBron.  It’s hard to blame Kyrie Irving for his role in the Cavs’ inability to make the Eastern Conference, and even more difficult to blame Love, as the Timberwolves were a historically good playoff snub last year, especially when he was on the floor.  However, there is no doubt that when the playoffs do roll around, the lack of experience for the Cavaliers will be a concern.

However, past performance and accolades have very little to do with how a group of players will fit together.  We know how well the Heat’s Big 3 fit together definitively, though they were already a playoff team when Bosh and James arrived in 2010.  The Cavaliers, however, have been atrocious since LeBron’s departure and, despite an incredible run of luck in the lottery, have still not been able to field a winning team.  This is bound to change this season barring a Paul George-level catastrophe changing the team’s landscape.  However, it remains to be seen just how well the three-headed monster of Irving, LeBron and Love will mesh.

LeBron won't be the only prolific three-point shooter in Cleveland. (David Dow/Getty Images)
LeBron won't be the only prolific three-point shooter in Cleveland. (David Dow/Getty Images)
I suspect they will be dominant together on the offensive end to a degree that the Heat never knew.  The reasoning for this is simple: three point shooting.  The most marked difference that LeBron represents for his teammates statistically is an uptick in shooting percentage, especially on the three point line where he excels at finding open men in rhythm that other people just wouldn’t see.  This skill, combined with his ferocious athleticism and special awareness forces defenders to make a decision: do you stop LeBron from simply having his way with whoever is guarding him in the paint, or should you be mindful of the kick-out to the three point line?

This conundrum is highly apparent when observing the statistical variance of Cleveland and Miami from the ’09-‘10 season to their ‘10-‘11 campaigns.  With LeBron on the team in 2009, the Cavs’ starters shot 38.2-percent from deep, while that number dropped to 33.3-percent the following year after LeBron’s departure.  The Heat, alternatively, jumped from 34.8-percent to 36.2-percent from three the following year, while attempting more per game. Understandably the team went through some growing pains, but they continued to improve over the following three years in their three-point efficiency.

I expect the Cavs to rain from beyond the arc next season, similar to the strategy employed by the Houston Rockets.  While Wade and Bosh were both terrific complements to LeBron’s skill-set, neither of them were able to hit threes with any consistency over that four-year span. Meanwhile, Kyrie and Love are both bonafide marksmen at the top of the league in three-point ability.

Until we see how Cleveland is able to gel as a unit around the new Big 3, we will have no idea how effective Love, LeBron and Irving will be in relation to Wade, LeBron and Bosh. I have a feeling that the three of them will be a force together in their current situation, but only time will tell.  I, for one, will be glued to the television to find out for myself.

You can reach Billy Lennon here.



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