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The LeBron Letdown Spectrum

Which Cavaliers role player is most likely to disappoint King James in a playoff game?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Things look bleak for LeBron James, whose Cavaliers face a 2-0 deficit against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. It’s the first time a James-led team has trailed 2-0 in an Eastern Conference playoff series in 10 years.

The blame, as usual, falls at the feet of LeBron’s teammates: James is averaging nearly a 30-point triple-double against Boston, racking up 28.5 points, 10.5 assists, and 8.5 rebounds per game. He’s scored 57 points on 45 shots while assisting 45 percent of his teammates’ made baskets. Meanwhile, the rest of the Cavs are shooting 38.8 percent from the field and a horrendous 21.9 percent from beyond the arc.

Below, I am going to analyze which of LeBron’s teammates are most likely to disappoint him. Initially, I was going to affix odds next to each player, but that’d imply only one member of the Cavaliers is capable of disappointing LeBron in a given game. That’s not accurate; multiple Cavs are managing to let him down every time that they take the court. Consider this a spectrum of probability that estimates the likelihood of a Cleveland role player failing LeBron in a playoff game.

Rodney Hood: 96 percent

Hood was acquired from the Jazz at February’s trade deadline and up to that point had averaged a career-best 16.8 points per game. “Hood is already shooting nearly 39 percent from three this year—imagine what he can do catching open looks from LeBron James,” Sports Illustrated’s Rohan Nadkarni wrote while grading the acquisition an A. This is not SI shade: Hood really seemed like a savvy acquisition for a Cavs team in desperate need of superior guard performance.

Yet Hood is 2-of-17 from 3-point range this postseason, and those two makes came in the opening two games of the Cavs’ first-round series against the Pacers. He’s missed 12 3-point attempts in a row since. (Catching open looks from LeBron apparently did not help him.) He went 1-of-9 from deep in three games against the Raptors before refusing to enter Game 4, feeling disrespected that he was asked to provide mop-up duty so soon after being brought to Cleveland ostensibly to fill a starting role.

Through three quarters of the Cavs’ 107-94 loss to Boston in Game 2, Hood recorded almost no statistics while posting a minus-8 plus-minus in nine minutes of action. Head coach Tyronn Lue was later asked why Hood remained part of the team’s rotation, and he didn’t really have a good answer besides that Hood is already in the rotation:

I’m not sure what’s worse for the Cavs entering Saturday night’s Game 3: When Rodney Hood plays, or when Rodney Hood refuses to play.

J.R. Smith: 82 percent

Smith’s reputation as a wildly inefficient gunner who takes ill-advised 27-footers first and asks questions later precedes him. But it’s worth noting that Smith, on occasion, has proven capable of playing effective basketball at the sport’s highest level. He legitimately aided the Cavs en route to their 2016 NBA championship. That J.R. was on display in this year’s Eastern Conference semifinals against the Raptors, when he went a preposterous 10-of-13 from 3-point land—77 percent—in a four-game sweep. Seventy-seven percent.

Against the Celtics, though, Smith has played some of the worst basketball of his career. He’s 2-of-16 from the field and 0-of-7 from beyond the arc. In Game 2, he went 0-of-7 from the floor with zero points. But his performance was worse than that, because Smith also delivered an unambiguously dirty hit on an airborne Al Horford.

He and Dexter Pittman may be the only players to ever finish a playoff game with more flagrant fouls than points.

Smith is streaky, so there’s a chance he’ll get hot soon. But it’s hard to play any worse than he’s playing at the moment. Failing to score while simultaneously committing fouls that can only hurt opponents makes him objectionable from a basketball and moral perspective right now.

Jordan Clarkson: 72 percent

Clarkson, another trade-deadline acquisition, appeared to be a meaningful pickup for the Cavs. He’d averaged double-digit points in every season of his career prior to the deal, including 14.5 points per game with the Lakers in 2017-18. He then played in 28 regular-season games for Cleveland after the trade and registered double-digit point totals in 20 of them. He also drilled more than 40 percent of his 3s.

In the playoffs, Clarkson has scored in double digits only twice in 12 games. He’s shooting 32.1 percent from the field and is 6-of-27 from beyond the arc. On Tuesday, he was benched by Lue for the entirety of Game 2, picking up his first DNP-CD since his rookie season in 2015. To add insult to extremely bad basketball, LeBron can’t always remember Clarkson’s name:

Jeff Green: 58 percent

Is it possible to be disappointed in Jeff Green? That’s like being disappointed in gas station sushi. You know what you’re getting as soon as you hand over the cash. Anyway, here’s Green giving the Celtics a fast break in Game 2:

Green is shooting 36 percent from 3 this postseason, well above his career and season averages. But it seems like he routinely forgets how to play basketball in the middle of Cavs’ possessions—botching layups, booting turnovers, and regularly looking at Jayson Tatum like he’s a creature from another dimension instead of defending him.

Kevin Love: 50 percent

Love has been consistently good in this postseason—he’s averaging a double-double in the playoffs and totaled 22 points and 15 rebounds in Game 2 against the Celtics. I just feel like LeBron likes being disappointed in Kevin Love.