The 2013-14 NBA season was supposed to be enormous for third-year point guard Kyrie Irving and, subsequently, the Cleveland Cavaliers. As the Eastern Conference as a general whole has gotten off to a stumbling start to this season, though, so to have the Cavs. Surprisingly enough, a big part of their problems have been a result of Irving’s lackluster play.
In just his second NBA season last year, Irving was absolutely phenomenal. Though he and the Cavs were slightly slowed by a young and underdeveloped supporting cast, Irving was still able to break through to average 22.5 points, 5.9 assists and 3.7 rebounds in 34.7 minutes per game while shooting a fantastic 45.2 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from three.
Obviously one thing that helped Irving’s star grow last season was his ability to put up unbelievable highlights and to also take over in fourth quarters. However, one of the underrated impressive things about his play in his first two seasons was how efficient he was on the offensive end. Sure, his defense remained somewhat problematic, but it’s a special thing to have a point guard that shoots as often as Irving does touch the efficiency clips that he did the past two seasons.
With Cleveland struggling this season, though, Irving’s numbers have dipped quite dramatically. Through the first 20 games of the season, Irving is averaging just 19.7 points, 5.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 34.5 minutes per game. More pressingly, he’s shooting a mere 39.4 percent from the floor and only 30.4 percent from three.
If Kyrie had drastically improved his defense and that was hurting his offensive effort, that would be slightly justifiable. However, that hasn’t been the case. Irving is still a poor defender, which means that he’s either in a severe shooting slump or that there’s a cause to his poor offensive display this season.
While his shooting has dipped in just about every zone on the floor, the most notable decline has come in his long mid-range and three-point shooting. While Irving shot 44.4 percent from 16-24 feet last season and 39.4 percent from outside of 24 feet, those numbers have dipped all the way down to 32.4 percent from 16-24 feet and 30.8 percent from beyond 24 feet. That’s a noticeable decline.
While you could possibly criticize Cleveland’s offense under new head coach Mike Brown, the biggest issue simply lies with the fact that Kyrie’s shot-selection hasn’t been at the level of a star player or at the level that it has been over the first two years of his career.
While Irving certainly has taken and made difficult shots prior to this year, there’s somewhat of a difference between a difficult shot and an unwise one. With a better supporting cast around him now in Cleveland, Irving has to be willing and able to facilitate more instead of forcing up contested shots or shots from difficult positions. He hasn’t been doing that as often as he should this season with his shooting woes and plateauing assist numbers there to prove it.
Perhaps we jumped the gun on a 21-year-old point guard by already anointing him a superstar, but even if that’s the case we know that Irving is more talented than he’s shown over the first month and a half or so of the season. Maybe his shots will start to fall as the season goes on, but I don’t see him getting to be near the player we expected him to be this year until his shot-selection noticeably improves.