Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Isaiah Thomas has a chance to become an even more dominant player from beyond the arc.
When players team up with LeBron James, they have a unique opportunity to run to a spot on the floor for catch-and-shoot threes. As defenders account for James, other Cavs are often left open as they spread the floor.
Chris Vernon discussed this exact kind of production on a recent podcast (via The Ringer):
“One of the things that can make a guy have an unbelievable game/season is being an awesome spot-up three guy… LeBron creates these situations where if you’re running two guys at him to get the ball out of his hands, there are a ton of opportunities for guys to take open threes.”
Some of the best spot-up shooters in the league are Cleveland players like Kyle Korver, Channing Frye, JR Smith and Kevin Love. Now healthy, it’s possible that Thomas will join those ranks.
Thomas was 3-for-8 from downtown during his first official game with Cleveland, including a successful spot-up attempt. Expect this to be a huge aspect of his game for the Cavaliers.
Last year, the only players in the NBA who averaged more points per possession as Thomas (1.22 PPP) on as many spot-up opportunities were Otto Porter Jr. (1.31 PPP) and Kawhi Leonard (1.24).
Once Thomas reaches his desired spot, James will have no trouble finding him for a three. This season, Cleveland leads all teams in the league (1.13 PPP) on spot-up plays.
Matthew Dellavedova shot 38-of-72 (52.8 percent) on three-pointers after passes from James during the 2015-16 season. Ray Allen was 50-of-97 (51.5 percent) during the final season James played in Miami. Last season, Korver was successful on 42-of-82 (51.2 percent) on long-range shots after passes from James.
It’s not uncommon for a player to find himself wide open on three-pointers when playing alongside the four-time MVP. In the past, the Cavs would sometimes pass up these shot opportunities because their personnel was not confident enough.
Thomas has never lacked confidence and he will not hesitate to take these shots.
Since his final season in Sacramento, Thomas has made almost exactly half of his three-pointers when there is not a defender within six feet.
During his most recent campaign for the Celtics, the point guard connected on 70-of-134 (52.2 percent) shots when he had wide open three-point opportunities. Among those with as many such attempts, Thomas had the second-best three-point percentage in the league last season. He was also among the most accurate during his first season in Boston.
But the entire offense for the Cavaliers does not rely solely around James. They run more isolation plays than any other team in the Eastern Conference, via NBA.com.
This is another area where Thomas has excelled in the past. Among players who had at least as many iso opportunities, Thomas and Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving (1.12 PPP) were tied for most points per possession last season.
As you can see above, the Celtics also found ways for Thomas to score as a pick-and-roll ball handler, off screens and on put-backs. It’s yet to be determined if the Cavaliers will use him in the same way, but he’s a valuable addition to any offense.