Kyrie Irving Playoff Preview: Will He Adapt to LeBron’s World?

Throughout Kyrie Irving’s brief career, he has flashed brilliance. He has also experienced a long list of severe injuries, lost many more games than he has won, and struggled to define his role since LeBron James came back to Cleveland. Now in his second season paired up with James, Irving is the starting point guard on the East’s top seed and will (hopefully) enter the playoffs healthy. LeBron is the obvious leader of the team; If Kyrie can accept and excel in his role as a second option, the Cavaliers could bring Cleveland their first sports championship in over 50 years.

LeBron knows that the time is now for him to relentlessly pursue championships. When the playoffs arrive, he will turn up his intensity and effort. Minutes, shot attempts, and usage will all increase, and he will demand to touch the ball on every possession. When the shots start going in, the double teams will arrive. LeBron’s court vision will allow him to make efficient passes out of the double teams, which is where Irving needs to be ready.

Kyrie can thrive in open space because he is one of the league’s best ball-handlers. He will have more space than usual in the playoffs when opposing defenses focus on James. Irving must be prepared to attack off the pass, either penetrating the defense or continuing the ball movement

Irving has struggled with his shot in his fifth season, only shooting 31.6% from beyond the arc. This is a career low, and is 10% less than last season. If the poor shooting continues, Irving needs to put the ball on the floor, either creating a better shot for himself or an open look for a teammate. Since the Cavs are loaded with capable perimeter shooters, Irving will have options besides launching his own long-range shots.

While Kyrie has had a tough time on the perimeter, he has thrived when he looks to penetrate the defense. He is shooting 51.3% on two-pointers, and 53% when he is within 10 feet of the basket. Further, he is shooting a solid 43% on pull-up jumpers and just 36% on catch-and-shoot field goals. When James defers to his main sidekick, Irving must be aggressive and put the defense on its heels.

Although the 24-year-old point guard is offensively dynamic, he is inadequate on defense. His defensive real plus-minus is -3.28, which is 84th out of 88 eligible point guards. Cleveland’s defensive rating also takes a substantial blow with Irving on the floor.

Points Scored Per 100 Possessions Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions
Kyrie On the Floor 110.9 105.3
Kyrie On the Bench 105.9 100.3

 

The Eastern Conference is stacked with talented offensive point guards, including Kyle Lowry, Isaiah Thomas, Kemba Walker, Reggie Jackson, Jeff Teague, Goran Dragic, and John Wall. Throughout Cleveland’s postseason run, Kyrie will be forced to defend a few of these floor generals. If Irving continues to be a defensive liability, the Cavs will have to allocate more point guard minutes to Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert.

Kyrie may hurt the team on defense, but he can help the squad in transition. In the 2015 playoffs, Cleveland adopted a ‘Grit and Grind’ style of play in which they played strong defense and used the whole shot clock on offense. That style has not changed too much in the 2015-16 season, as the Cavs rank 29th in the NBA in pace.

Even if Cleveland is more effective when running clock and being patient, it is vital to take transition opportunities when they are available. Irving is quick, can control the ball, and can finish at the rim. These tools make Irving capable of leading fast breaks, which is something that Cleveland needs.

For the Cavs to win their first NBA title in franchise history, LeBron and Kyrie must establish chemistry with each other. Kyrie struggles with being a part of LeBron’s world; he is unable to have the primary role that other talented point guards such as Damian Lillard have. His production is being curbed because LeBron controls the team when he is on the floor.

James single-handedly led Cleveland to the Finals last season, and averaged 46 minutes, 36 points, 13 rebounds, and 9 assists in their six-game series with Golden State. Irving can help to prevent James from over-exerting himself throughout the playoffs by being a solid complementary teammate.

Irving may want to be the center object of the Cavaliers, but he must conform to LeBron’s system by being an efficient secondary option for the team to reach its full potential.

 

photo via llananba