The Cleveland Cavaliers are a strange team. We came into the 2013-14 season thinking they’d be a fringe playoff team, with a budding superstar in Kyrie Irving. Add in the unstable microwave known as Dion Waiters, bring in Jarrett Jack as the veteran, combine with No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and gritty bigs like Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson and what do you get? A 15-27 record and a whole lot of questions.
One of the biggest issues is how bad the Cavaliers have been on the road. It’s not easy to win on the road, but a mark of 5-17 is well beyond “not easy” and is lurking in the territory of “did they create clones for road trips.”
The Cavaliers have shot under 44 percent 14 (!) times out of their 22 road games and are 1-13 in those contests. They are 0-9 against the Atlantic and Central divisions on the road. They average 6.2 fewer rebounds on the road, 4.5 fewer points scored and they allow 5.2 more points.
MUST BE KYRIE’S FAULT
If you’re a superstar (or one in the making), you’d best carry your team on the road when they need it most (see: James, LeBron). Is Irving doing that? Before we get to his raw numbers, let me help you out with a little bit of a spoiler.
You see, Irving’s numbers
go down plummet across the board. Take a look at these beauties:
Home: 36.9 MPG, 25.0 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 7.6 APG, .453/.418/.912
Road: 33.8 MPG, 18.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 4.8 APG, .407/.326/.753
Do the Cavaliers stay in shanty towns? Do they rent air mattresses to save money or something? Why on earth the huge fall off in shooting numbers?
Maybe it was from a tough earlier stretch and the numbers are coming back up. After all, the Cavs are now 5-6 in the month of January and had a successful 3-2 road trip during the frame. How did Kyrie fare during that time?
34.3 MPG, 17.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 5.4 APG, .413/.389/.727
Hey, he’s rebounding and shooting the three much better! In all seriousness, those aren’t even close to superstar numbers. Have we overrated Irving? Is he going to go the Tyreke Evans/Eric Gordon route and look great one night, then disappear and sulk the next?
THE SMOKING GUN
There are a lot of factors that go into on/off court stats so we can’t take them as the absolute truth. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, HOW ON EARTH ARE THE CAVS BETTER WITHOUT IRVING ON THE COURT?
Apparently, Irving is one of the poorest defenders in the NBA based on statistics. When he’s on the court, the Cavs score 103.3 and give up 109.8 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, they score 4.6 less points, but give up 6.3 less points, for a net gain of 1.8.
Irving has allowed opposing point guards to put up an efficiency rating of 18.2 against him, almost negating the 19.8 he puts up himself.
Synergy Sports has Irving ranked as the No. 221 defender overall in the NBA, allowing .89 points per possession. Do some quick math and you’ll find there’s 150 starters, so he’s ranked somewhere in the range of the No. 8 guy in the rotation. That’s Marcus Morris and Chase Budinger territory. Not very scientific, but you get the point.
In isolation, Irving is the No. 156 player in the league, allowing .95 points per possession. He finds himself most often trying to defend the pick-and-roll ball handler, where he allows .79 points per possession, good for a rank of No. 100.
YEAH BUT HE’S GOOD OFFENSIVELY…RIGHT?
In 2012-13, Irving was one of the best in the entire NBA in isolation. He could break you down and get to the basket or he could pull up and knock down a jumper. This year, he’s elite in the pick-and-roll, scoring .94 points per possession, which is good for No. 10 in the NBA. He’s slipped in isolation, down to No. 54 (.86 PPP).
The most glaring difference for Irving has been his inability to make shots. He’s shooting a career-low 43 percent from the field and a career-low 45 percent on his 2-point attempts. He’s down to 37.3 percent (still pretty good) from the 3-point line, but that’s also a career-low. For the career-low pupu platter, he’s also shooting 83.3 percent from the free-throw line.
Irving is still an excellent player that 29 other teams would love to have. But, his game is showing some serious cracks. If he can’t carry a team or if he can’t bring out the best in his team, is he just a stat-stuffer? This was the guy who stood up to Kobe Bryant at USA practice. This was the guy who was to make Cleveland fans forget about LeBron James.
Another year of this regression and we’ll be forgetting ever thinking Irving was going to be a superstar.
Michael Dunlap is an NBA credentialed writer who is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief for the Sports Illustrated/Fansided NBA site HoopsHabit.com. He also covers high school sports for The Arizona Republic. Follow me on Twitter @DunlapNBA.