There is no question that the best player on the roster of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and for that matter, the entire NBA is LeBron James.
However, you can a very good case that when Kyrie Irving plays at a superstar level, that’s when Cleveland becomes one of the best teams in the league.
The Cavs got off to a tremendous start in 2016-17, heading into the new year with a 25-7 record.
Irving was very efficient in those months, scoring around 24 points per game and taking around 18-19 shots on average.
In December, the wine and gold went 12-4, their best month of the season, and Irving was incredible, averaging 23.2 points and 7.8 assists per game.
In one seven game stretch toward the end of the month, the 25-year-old had 10 or more assists five times, while scoring over 20 points in the same number of games.
However, January saw the beginning of the malaise that has enveloped the Cavs for the last three months. The team went 7-8 during the first month of the year, and while Irving averaged 25 points per game during those 15 games, his assists numbers dropped to 5.2, and only two games with more than seven dimes.
His shots per game increased as well, going from around 18.5 in November and December to almost 21 in January.
The Cavaliers’ ship righted itself in February going 9-2, and coincidentally, Irving became more of a passer again, averaging 7.1 assists a night (six games with more than five), although the shots were up again at a little over 21 a game.
Kyrie didn’t shoot well from the three point line in February, making just 32% of his long range shots. He was close to 40% up to that point.
Then came March, the worst month record wise for the Cavs since James returned to the team at 7-10.
Irving’s scoring was up (27.0) and his shooting was very good (almost 50% from the floor and 44% from long range), but his assists totals were down to under five per contest (4.8).
The former first overall pick had six games where he had more than five assists during March, and the Cavs went 5-1 in those games. That means when Irving had less than five, Cleveland went 2-9.
Now, there can be many reasons for Irving’s assist totals to be down, one of them logically being his teammates not making as many shots as they were earlier in the year.
When you lose JR Smith for 10 weeks and Kevin Love for five, two of the Cavaliers’ better shooters, your assist totals could take a dive. And there is no question, Irving tried to pick up the scoring slack from the absence of those two players.
However, in watching the games, the ball movement that was a trademark early in the season is no longer there. There is simply too much isolation ball, and too much dribbling by Cleveland players.
We would also like to see Deron Williams be the playmaker when he and Irving are in the game together. Williams seems to be deferring to Irving, dribbling the ball across the time line and then giving it to Kyrie right away, instead of letting Irving be the scorer in that lineup.
Perhaps Irving should be more particular as to when he needs to carry the entire burden of the offense, and spend time earlier in games getting the other players going. Outside of the “Big Three” (and the Cavs do that with Love in the first quarter), the rest of the team is struggling.
Maybe getting them some good early looks will get them into a good rhythm.
But it is clear when Kyrie Irving’s assist numbers are up, the Cleveland Cavaliers win more often.
Another thing to look at for the rest of the season and into the playoffs.