For most of the last two seasons, basketball fans in Cleveland have focused on two players when things have gone bad for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
However, David Blatt is no longer the team’s head coach, and although Kevin Love’s value is still misunderstood by many who claim to know the game, the spotlight has been deflected from him recently.
More and more people are taking a look at Kyrie Irving.
There is no question that Irving, the first player taken in the draft in 2011, is uber talented, and also a highly decorated player.
He was the Rookie of the Year in 2012, the All Star MVP in 2014, USA Basketball’s player of the year, and last year was named to the third team All-NBA squad.
He may have the best ball handling skills in the league, and can seemingly get to the basket anytime he wants to.
But for many of the basketball cognoscenti, there is something missing.
First of all, it’s Irving’s effort and ability on the defensive end of the floor. As Coach John Wooden once said there is no excuse for a good offensive man not to be a good defensive man.
The same quickness that Irving uses to get to the rim on a nightly basis can certainly be used to stop his defensive assignment.
The second problem is his tendency to show off his handle. He loves to dribble.
After Irving scored 33 points in a win over Dallas on Wednesday, he was being praised by some because “someone has to score”, but meanwhile his teammates were said to be upset by his monopolization of the ball.
The guard’s big hoop in the last two minutes came from giving up the ball, and getting it back on a pass from JR Smith as he cut to the basket.
Meanwhile, Dallas came back from a 20 point deficit because Irving dribbled the shot clock down to expiration and then had to take poor percentage shots.
There is no doubt the Cavs need him to score, but it can be done by giving it up and moving without the ball to open spots where his team can find him.
Players are human. They don’t like to go up and down the floor without ever touching the basketball. It is understandable that professional players are frustrated playing with a ball dominant player, especially when the coach and the best player on the team stress that style of play.
The other issue with Irving is that he doesn’t seem to be improving as a player.
His shooting percentage hasn’t gotten appreciably better since entering the NBA ( career high 46.9% as a rookie, now 46.2%), nor has he become a better passer (5.4 assists as a rookie, career best 6.1 in last year without James, now 4.5).
His player efficiency rating (analytics!) was 21.4 as a rookie, peaked at 21.5 last season, and is now at 21.0). Here is how that stacks up against other in their first five seasons–
Stephen Curry: 16.3, 19.4, 21.2, 21. 3, 24.1
Damian Lillard: 16.4, 18.6, 20.7, 23.3 He is now in his fourth year.
Derrick Rose: 16.0, 18.6, 23. 5, 23.0, hobbled by injuries since.
We picked these players for the following reasons. Curry and Lillard are players compared most to the former Duke standout, and Rose was also a one and done player, while the others played more college basketball than did Irving.
While Irving started out better than the other three, he hasn’t taken the step up in his game that the other three have. The Cavs need him to take that next step because he is that talented, and LeBron James is getting older.
Irving is the one who needs to “fit in”, and stop listening to a player like Kobe Bryant, who tells him to be more aggressive.
He needs to remember that in Bryant’s first three championships, he was NOT the best player on those teams, Shaquille O’Neal was.
The Cavs need him to win, but he needs to share the ball, and get it back to score. Oh, and to pick it up on the defensive end too.
He can do all of that. It’s just a matter of actually doing it.