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Cleveland Cavalier Superlatives: Best Sharpshooter

Donovan Mitchell
(AP Photo/ Ron Schwane)

The Cavaliers have a lot of good players who excel at a lot of different things, and thus it’s hard to say who the best is at any one thing. Today, we’ll look at a coveted skill, three-point shooting, and find out who the best sharpshooter on the team is. It’s an area that the Cavaliers struggled with last year and took great pains to correct in the offseason, so there are quite a few names in the ring. 


The Incumbents

The Cavaliers shooting last year was a bit of an issue. While they had two guys who were borderline elite at shooting from deep, it fell off pretty quickly after that. That being said, two returners have as much claim on the title of best sharpshooter as anyone.

Donovan Mitchell

December 4, 2022; Cleveland Cavaliers guard <a rel=Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports

Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland are the only returning Cavs that have a claim to the sharpshooter title. Mitchell doesn’t have the percentage some of these other guys have, but he’s got the volume and the difficulty. He takes the most threes, and he takes the most unassisted ones as well. Shooting 38.6% on 9.3 attempts per game on the shots he takes is really, really good. Good enough to get him an invite to the three-point contest even. Historically, this was his best season from deep, although his 2020-2021 was basically identical. Two great seasons compared to four average ones, it’s hard to say who the real Mitchell is. To be fair, it’s also two great ones out of the last three. Either way, his volume, shot selection, and percentage make a great case for Mitchell as the leading sniper on the team.


Darius Garland

David Richard/USA TODAY Sports

Garland had the highest three-point percentage on the Cavaliers last season amongst players with any real volume, shooting a scorching 41% on six attempts per game. He’s got accuracy, and he’s got a solid volume making him a great candidate for best sharpshooter. Garland is also historically more consistent than Mitchell. While this was his best season from beyond the arc by a solid margin, his last two seasons were also well above average. That being said, more of his threes are assisted than Mitchell, leading to a higher percentage. The only season he was below 50% assisted, he shot basically the same as Mitchell. Considering the percentage when not frequently assisted is basically the same, and Mitchell has the greater volume in terms of pure shooting, I’ll give Mitchell a slight edge.


Honorable Mention

Caris LeVert had a career year from deep, hitting 39.2% of his three-point tries on 4.4 attempts per game. Historically though, it’s a major outlier from the rest of his nine-year career, so it’s hard to consider this much more than a fluke right now. Add in the fact that nearly 3/4ths of his tries are assisted and the similar accuracy, and it’s hard to give LeVert the title of best sharpshooter over Garland or Mitchell despite the great year. 


The Newcomers

With only two (three counting LeVert) players that the Cavaliers could really trust from beyond the arc last year, it makes sense that they went out and grabbed a bevy of three-point specialists in the offseason, including their big move in Max Strus. Do any of these guys have the chops to take the crown from Mitchell?


Max Strus

Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

The big free agent splash of the summer, Strus was brought in almost exclusively for his shooting prowess. Ever since really breaking into the NBA in 2020-2021, he has had a great season shooting, an average season shooting and a poor one. Luckily, his poor season was his first getting any real minutes, and since then has been average at worst and elite at best. The Cavaliers are desperately hoping they got the elite version, the one that shot 41% on 6.5 attempts per game. They won’t ask Strus to create his own shot at all, just hit the open ones that Mitchell and Garland will inevitably create. Strus doesn’t have enough elite shooting seasons to definitely be the guy, but he’s certainly got the potential.


Georges Niang

May 11, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward <a rel=

Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Another wing shooter, Niang, is the most one-dimensional of all the candidates, but the one thing he does is shoot, and he’s been great at it in his career. A career 40% shooter, he’s shot 40% or above every season since 2017-2018. That’s kept up even as his attempts have increased, shooting five per game in his last two years with essentially no drop in efficiency. Niang knows his role is to shoot and has developed a quick trigger and good off-ball movement to always make himself available. With one of the best playmakers in the league in Garland, Niang will have plenty of opportunities to catch and shoot. Which is good because that’s really all the shooting he’ll be doing. A whopping 100% of his threes last year were assisted. That could be a bad thing, but for Niang and his role, it’s kind of perfect. 


Honorable Mention

Sam Merrill has basically no NBA experience under his belt, but he showed out in the Summer League enough to get a contract with the Cavaliers. He led the Summer League Champions in scoring, with most of that coming from deep. He took 11.2 triples per game and sank them at a stellar 44.6% clip. Merrill was drafted as a sharpshooter, shooting 42% at Utah State, although he hasn’t had the minutes to show his skill yet in the NBA, the potential is there. For a spacing-hungry team, Merrill will have his opportunities, he just needs to cash in on them. 


Who’s the Best?

In my mind, it’s between Donovan Mitchell and Georges Niang. Niang is the consistent one, and in pure catch-and-shoot, it’s hard to beat him. He has one job, and he does it as well as almost anyone. He has good volume, great percentages, and an excellent history. Meanwhile, Mitchell beats him in attempts, and he clears him by far in degree of difficulty. Mitchell is pulling up off the dribble constantly, and he’s often the one taking the desperation shot in isolation at the end of the shot clock. That comes with a drop in efficiency, but being well above average at 38% despite all that is still unbelievable. The only worry with Mitchell is that in six NBA seasons, he was only above average twice, compared to Niang, who’s been near the top ever since getting an actual role. 

For that reason, even though it’s a razor-thin margin, I’ll crown Niang as the best shooter on the Cavs. Mitchell could easily take it with another season like he just had, while Strus, Garland, and even Sam Merrill may end up with the title by the end of the year. If anything, though, that’s a great problem for the Cavaliers to have.


Patrick Yen is a contributor on Back Sports Page.  He has written for NBC, SB Nation, and a few more websites in his four-year sports journalism career. He has been the Back Sports Page beat writer for the Philadelphia 76ers and now the Cleveland Cavaliers. Patrick, a graduate of Ohio State University, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but moved to Columbus, Ohio, early in his life and has lived there ever since. You can find more of Patrick on Twitter @pyen117.

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