Examining Kyrie Irving's Return So Far

How is the star point guard's return going to this point? And what is it telling us?

A fractured kneecap doesn't sound like anything I ever want to experience in my life. But, after suffering a grade 3 shoulder separation in college I know one thing: that almost every injury has its positives.

Take Kyrie Irving, for example. 

Sure, the Cleveland Cavaliers point guard is still shaking off some rust. He's shooting 39.7% from the field and 24% from deep in limited minutes (22.8 per game). That's nothing to be too excited about, but it isn't something to worry about either.

No Worries

Irving shot over 45% from the field and over 40% from three a year ago, and he's never shot worse than 43% from the field or 35% from beyond the arc. His shot's going to be there -- we know this. And if we needed any reassurance, Irving has given that to us in the form of both his free throw shooting and his performance against the Raptors a few nights ago.

Monday night, against Kyle Lowry and a solid Toronto defense, Irving went off for 25 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds in just under 29 minutes. More importantly, Irving found that beautiful stroke we all know and love as he finished the game 10 of 16 from the field, 2 of 5 from deep and a perfect 3 for 3 from the charity stripe.

Prior to Monday, Irving had failed to have one game in which he had more than 7 field goals despite taking 12 or more in all but one game. He even missed every single one of his three-point attempts in three of his first five games back.

But as I alluded to, the one constant that surely had he, fans and fantasy owners as confident as ever was not only his proven numbers in years past but his present free throw shooting success.

In his first four games back, Uncle Drew put on a free throw shooting clinic, going 14 for 14 from the free throw line prior to going a mediocre (for his standards) 5 of 7 against the Magic. So, if you've been keeping track, that's 22 of 24 on the season thus far -- or 91.7%. 

I know it's early, but if he can sustain that kind of production from the line, he'd be in for a career best not only in free throw percentage but free throws made and attempted per 36 minutes. In his six games, Irving is taking 6.3 free throw attempts per 36 minutes and hitting on 5.8 of those. Those would both be career highs by over a make and attempt per three quarters of action.

Clearly, Irving has had a lot of time to work on the little ins and outs of his shot, especially while stationary at the line. But this also shows that maybe we're in for a more aggressive, playmaking Kyrie this year.

A Time for Reflection

From my own experience, it's not very hard to get out there and work on one of the few things you can do on the basketball court. What's hard, at times, is watching the games and wishing you were out there, telling yourself, "Man, if I was out there I'd be tearing it up right now."

However, from that same thing that breeds a sense of depression or negativity also springs hope and positivity.

When you have the time to sit back and watch the game, watch your team and how they play, you get an even better understanding of what it is that's missing. You see where exactly you fit into the equation and where you can help the team improve upon your return.

It's also at this point that one can discover an even greater drive to get better in order to accomplish feats and goals. I can't tell you this from asking Kyrie directly, but it seems as though he's done a lot of thinking and examining his -- as well as his team's -- game.

He's come out this season with an apparent aggressiveness and purpose. Not only is he taking the most free throw attempts (in 36 minutes) than he ever has but he's also taking on a much bigger role for the Cavaliers, despite his current ( or recent) minutes restriction.

For starters, he's scored in double figures in five of his six games, mind you in merely 22.8 minutes per contest. He's also scoring the most points per 36 that he's scored over the course of his young career.

We all know that Irving can score, but he's also shown flashes of things yet to come in his four-plus NBA seasons.

He's averaging a career high 6.6 assists per 36 while averaging a career low 2.1 turnovers per 36. His Assist Percentage of 34.1% is the highest since his rookie year (when Anderson Varejao was the next best player on his team) and is actually higher than LeBron's to date. His Turnover Percentage of 8.3% is a full 3.5% better than his prior career best, so clearly Irving has worked on much more than just shooting.

And he's doing a lot to put it to good use.

A New Leader

Irving currently sports a career high Usage Percentage of 32% and has had a Usage of at least 30% in five of six games. That's second on the Cavs to only King James himself.

That's not nearly as eye opening as this graphic though.

On-Court Splits Usage Rate Assist Percentage
Kyrie Irving 29.7 30.0
LeBron James 22.3 22.2
Kevin Love 23.9 14.3

According to, when all three stars are on the floor, Irving has the Assist and Usage Percentage lead by a sizable margin.

As this shows, Irving has taken a lot of the playmaking and ball-handling load off of James. LeBron's seen his Usage and Assist Percentages drop by over 10% each, and with Irving on the floor, his Usage is even lower than that of even Kevin Love for what appears to be obvious offensive spacing reasons.

Maybe -- just maybe -- this means more rest for James down the stretch. This might also mean that Irving is ready for the big leadership role that has been expected of him in Cleveland.

So, in summary, I'd say Irving's return has been nothing short of promising to this point and that it's telling us to watch for a huge 2016 from the star point guard.