A lot has been made of Jason Lloyd’s recent piece on Kyrie Irving and his accolades versus his accomplishments. Some have looked at Lloyd’s work as further proof that Irving is overrated. Others have argued that at just 21-years-old, Irving both needs and deserves time to grow. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Today we look at some of the hot topics surrounding the Cleveland Cavaliers’ franchise point guard.
Maturity and Effort
A lot has been made of Irving’s seemingly lack of maturity and consistent effort both on and off the court. While there is no doubt that Irving has been a bit more inconsistent this year, that should be somewhat expected considering the way teams have been defending him this season. Teams have consistently used double and triple teamed Irving on his way to the basket, denying him the success there he has had previously. Since he does not possess the athleticism of other point guards such as Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, Irving has to open up a path to the basket by making sure the opposing team is respecting his outside shooting each night. On nights that he is not shooting well (like most of the first month of the season), teams simply lay off Irving so that they can more aggressively protect the basket. The Cavaliers’ lack of consistent outside shooting from anyone other than Irving and C.J. Miles doesn’t help matters. Most of the season teams have packed the paint on the Cavaliers forcing them to settle for jumpers. When they’re falling, the Cavaliers look great. When they’re not, you get six-point quarters. So what may look like less effort from Irving may actually be him taking the shots available rather than trying to force something that is unlikely to work.
Regarding maturity, there is no doubt that Irving is a work in progress. He seems like his is trying to be the leader the Cavaliers need, but he is neither ready, nor a natural fit in terms of personality for the role. While there is no doubt that Irving makes the Cavaliers better, he simply doesn’t possess the killer instinct of older players such as Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, or the Miami Heat version of LeBron James. Perhaps this will get better with age as it did with James. Only time will tell. It does not help that Irving is playing with several other young and immature players as well. During last Friday’s win against the Milwaukee Bucks, Irving would try to set up the offense as he brought the ball up the court. Most of the Cavaliers tried to follow the directions given with one notable exception, Dion Waiters. Sitting nine rows from the floor, I saw several instances in which Waiters simply shook his head no to Irving’s directions and did what he wanted regardless of the team plan. This clearly frustrated Irving as the game went on, and that’s understandable. Dion Waiters is a talented young player, but he has yet to show any proof that he is in Kyrie Irving’s ballpark. For him to shake off Irving, the point guard of the team, is not in the best interests of Irving, the Cavaliers as a team, or even Waiters himself. If the Cavaliers play more consistently as a team, they will be more successful, receive more accolades, and their players will be more valued by both the Cavaliers organization as well as those of other NBA franchises. This will allow those players to make more money. Whether you are twenty-one, thirty-five, or sixty-two you can understand the frustration of having a co-worker with whom you are simply not on the same page. Because of this, his age, and the Cavaliers’ lack of success this season, it’s no wonder Irving has shown frustration at times. Remember being a 21-year-old NBA star doesn’t make you more mature or a better person, it simply makes you a 21-year-old multi-millionaire.
There really isn’t a lot to say here. According to 82games.com, Irving currently sports a PER of 20.1 and averages 29.3 points and 8.5 assists per 48 minutes. Opposing point guards have a PER of 18.6 and average 21.1 points and 10.3 assists per 48 minutes against Irving, meaning he is only slightly better than his opposition on any given night. Also, while the Cavaliers’ offense is 6.4 points better per 48 minutes with Irving on the floor, the defense is 6.9 points worse per 48, meaning the Cavaliers may actually be worse when Kyrie Irving is on the floor. This doesn’t pass the eye test at all, but it’s worth mentioning and is further proof that despite some improvement this season, Irving is still a well below average defender. This was a concern of NBA scouts even when Irving was still at Duke, and small quick point guards such as Isaiah Thomas and D.J. Augustin tend to give him more problems than methodical guards such as Deron Williams or even Chris Paul. Irving may simply not be quick enough to keep up with these guards, as most of his perceived quickness on offense is due more to his dribbling and ability to change speed and direction than it is to actual bursts of elite speed.
As has been discussed before, the Cleveland Cavaliers have significant control over Kyrie Irving’s future, not only for the next few season, but for several years to come. This coming fall the Cavaliers will be able to offer Irving the maximum contract available for a player of his experience level, which they assuredly will. Despite speculation to the contrary, Irving will most likely sign that contract. No player on their first deal has ever turned down a max contract extension from the team that drafted them, and Irving is unlikely to be the first. While the Cavaliers face tough odds in their quest to make the playoffs this season, Irving’s situation is not much different from that of fellow point guard John Wall, who signed his first max contract last fall and now has the Washington Wizards well on their way to making the playoffs for the first time since 2008, a much longer drought than the Cavaliers are currently experiencing. Even if Irving opts to not sign long-term with the Cavaliers and instead takes a one year qualifying offer, that would still keep him on the team through 2016. If Irving somehow makes it to free agency in 2015, it will be as a restricted free agent and the Cavaliers can match any contract offer, keeping Irving with the team. If he demands to be moved and begins to make life difficult for the Cavaliers, a sign-and-trade or standard trade that brings a significant haul back to Cleveland could be easily attained. Here’s a hypothetical example. If Irving tried to force his way via sign-and-trade to New Orleans to play with Anthony Davis and the Cavaliers could get back Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson would it be a worthwhile deal for the Cavaliers? Maybe. If the Cavaliers could pull off a deal similar to the one the Denver Nuggets did when they traded Carmelo Anthony, then the franchise would still be on solid ground, even without Irving. No matter what, a repeat of The Decision is not in Cleveland’s future.
Kyrie Irving isn’t perfect. He can be moody, battles injuries, and is not much of a defender. But he is also still a work in progress as both a player and a person. As this young prodigy continues his journey towards becoming the player many think he can be, it’s important to remember that this process took time for even the best players in the history of the game. Given some time and patience Irving could go down as one of the most successful athletes in the history of Cleveland sports and help return the Cleveland Cavaliers to the prominence in the NBA that they once enjoyed under another former number one draft pick.