How Kyrie Irving's Absence Would Affect the Cavaliers' Offense and the NBA Finals

If Irving can't suit up for the rest of the series, will we see a LeBron James takeover?

The Cleveland Cavaliers were close, close to toppling the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, close to lessening the substantial odds against them in the series, close to the first title in Cleveland sports history since, well, you know the story.

Alas, the team's secondary superstar, Kyrie Irving, exited the game in overtime with an injury to his left knee.

The overtime period overall wasn't kind to the Cavs.

With the Game 1 loss, the Cavs' odds to win the Finals have dropped from 21.24% to 13.49%, and that's assuming Irving is back in action on Sunday night for Game 2.

What if he's not?

The Kyrie-less Cavs

So we know that the Cavaliers without Kyrie won't be nearly as efficient on offense (right?), but another layer in this is that the Cavaliers would be playing without Irving and Kevin Love. Just how different will the team be from the one we all thought we'd be seeing last summer?

Since the All-Star break (and including the playoffs), the Cavs had played plenty of minutes without Love on the floor, so we have a good idea of how the team can operate without Love (and with Irving), but how does that compare to the team without either on the floor?

Here are the team's splits, according to

Since AS BreakPosseFG%PPP3PA3P%
With Irving, Without Love102850.51.11933435.9
Without Both114350.91.07940838.2

All things considered, not too much changes, though the team's points per possession (or Offensive Rating if multiplied by 100) goes from roughly 111.9 with Irving to 107.9 without him. For context, the 111.9 mark would have placed them second on the year in Offensive Rating (between Golden State's 112.4 and the Los Angeles Clippers' 111.6), and the 107.9 mark would have ranked 10th (edging out Oklahoma City's 107.8) in the regular season.

But the team's three-point percentage has been better without both players, and that has helped the Effective Field Goal Percentage see an uptick from 50.5% to 50.9%.

What About LeBron?

The biggest question is how the absence of two-thirds of the Big Three has impacted James' output, as he will now need to shoulder an even bigger offensive load.

Here are some of LeBron's more interesting individual splits in those same circumstances.

LeBronPossUSG%eFG%PPP%FG Ast.
With Irving, Without Love77533.647.31.0127.0
Without Both71847.247.41.0224.4

The most obvious shift is the usage rate, which goes from about two-thirds of Cleveland's possessions to nearly half of them when he's the lone man of the trio on the floor since the All-Star break. However, even with the bigger burden, his Effective Field Goal Percentage is basically the same, as is his personal points per possession. He does, though, score on fewer assisted baskets without Love and Irving on the floor with him.

A convenient argument now might be that James will just take more three-pointers because the Warriors can put even more of a defensive attention on him. Is that actually how he's played without Love and Irving?

Here's the breakdown of where LeBron's shots have come from given the circumstances.

% Field Goal Attempts0'-3'4'-9'10'-15'16'+3P (<23')24'-29'
With Irving, Without Love33.613.
Without Both35.113.09.518.60.723.2

James actually attempted shots at the rim a bit more frequently without either player, but his mid-range game dipped in frequency. His corner threes (threes shorter than 23 feet) became even less of a factor than they were with Irving.

His attempts from above the break, though, did go up, and given his sky-high usage rate, we can likely expect plenty of attempts from beyond the arc from James during the rest of the series.

The Other Guys

Of course, even if LeBron's usage rate soars to 60% or higher, other players are going to have to take some shots. How have they played in the absence of both Love and Irving?

Well, have a look at the Cavs who have played at least 300 possessions since the break without either player on the floor, sorted by Effective Field Goal Percentage.

J.R. Smith2494659710213563.966.220.81.411.3248.5
James Jones33362210011114863.566.416.21.471.3345.0
Tristan Thompson428793699411256.559.613.11.091.1956.5
Iman Shumpert45584012813814652.353.
LeBron James39071828533134647.451.947.21.021.0443.2
Matthew Dellavedova545100515316616446.449.517.30.950.9935.9
Timofey Mozgov19135250565746.050.917.40.941.0246.0

If you're sagacious, you'll see that LeBron is still on the list and that his shooting efficiency isn't exactly reassuring, but a few other members of LeBron's stellar supporting cast have stepped up and shot the ball well.

However, only one player -- J.R. Smith has a usage greater than 20% without Love and Irving on the court. Most possessions will begin and end with James, but those that don't are up for grabs.

Impacting the Finals

So the Cavs' odds after the Game 1 loss, according to our algorithms, sits at just 13.49%. Without Kyrie for the rest of the Finals, their title hopes drop to 11.62%.

It's a small shift, sure, but the odds were already stacked against them given how solid the Warriors are as a whole.

If the pressure wasn't on LeBron already, it surely will be if Irving misses the rest of the series.