Does a Pass-First Kyrie Irving Make the Cleveland Cavaliers Better?
There's this ongoing debate around the NBA regarding true point guards and what that term really means.
What exactly defines a true floor general? Is it elite passing and being a leader in the locker room? Does it matter that, on the floor, Stephen Curry isn't very much like Chris Paul -- the point guard who best fits the undefinable mold?
My opinion on the subject is that it doesn't really matter. Every point guard is somewhat different. They have their own style of play that makes them the player they are -- strengths, weaknesses, and the whole nine yards.
Through his first few years in the league, we couldn't quite figure out Kyrie Irving.
We couldn't peg him as strictly a passing or scoring point guard.
He's Kyrie -- plain and simple. He has his own game. However, if we had to choose between the two, I'm sure we'd tend to side with the scoring point guard label. Over his career, Irving has averaged 21 points to just 5.5 assists per game.
This year is no different, as he's tallying 23.6 points and 5.8 helpers a contest in 28 games. But, recently we've seen a slight change in all of that.
Over the past four games, Irving has had at least eight assists in each contest. However unimpressive a feat that is for the likes of John Wall, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook -- who reel off double-digit assists like nobody's business -- it's just as impressive for Irving, who has never accomplished this before in his six-year career.
The closest he's ever gotten is a three-game streak in 2014. And the only other player in franchise history to have at least four in a row is none other than LeBron.
How did this come about? A result of injuries? A spike in usage?
In the past four games, James and Kevin Love have each missed a game. Sure, that plays a part, but it hasn't had much of an impact on Irving's usage rate. As a matter of fact, his usage rate of 27.5% is one percentage point lower than his season average of 28.5%.
Despite that, his assist percentage swelled from 34% on the season to 54.7% in his last four contests.
In the last four, the Cavs are 3-1. You might be thinking, "Well, how did they lose a game with Kyrie playing like that?" That loss came in the back end of a back-to-back against the Detroit Pistons on the road -- and, most notably, without LeBron -- so it's an understandable defeat even when you consider that Irving dished out eight assists in that one.
Never mind the last four games. How have Irving's assist counts affected the Cavaliers overall?
|0 to 4||12||9||3|
|5 to 9||11||8||3|
You can see that there's not a big difference -- at least, by win-loss record -- when Irving has four or fewer assists or when he has five to nine assists. When he puts up double-digits, it's a different story entirely.
While the Cavs have averaged an offensive rating of 115.1 in the 23 games in which he hasn't tallied 10-plus helpers, they've averaged a rating of 116.9 points per 100 possessions in the five in which he has.
Their effective field goal percentages are very similar in all three instances -- and it turns out it has been the highest when Irving dishes out five to nine -- but we must consider that five games is less than half the sample size we get from the other two splits.
In these five games, Cleveland has been held under their season average in offensive rating and effective field goal percentage three and two times, respectively. The game in which they failed to reach either mark came against the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day.
On the positive end, they scored at least 113 points on three occasions with an effective field goal percentage of 54.8% in three as well. And in those contests, Irving has a total plus-minus of 100 -- good for an average of plus-20 per game. Games in which the Cavaliers won by an average margin of 12.2 points.
Make no mistake -- this isn't all-telling, considering the sample size and the link between assists and points and between points and wins. But, it's hard to argue with a 5-0 record that contains a big-time win over their rival Warriors.
At the very least, this tells us that the odds are in Cleveland's favor when the star point guard dishes out five or more assists.
As a matter of fact, two of the team's three losses, in instances that Kyrie has had five-plus assists, came without LeBron. At full strength, that makes the Cavs 13-1 when Irving's doing his part to share the rock.
So, keep dishing it, Kyrie.