While Kyrie Irving is certainly one of the top up-and-coming players in the league, he is still not the superstar player that many believe he is. While he is a very talented player, he still has a lot to learn about playing the NBA game before he can be considered a superstar.
His reputation is built a lot off of his crossover, SportsCenter highlights, having his own commercials, and his performance at last year’s NBA All-Star Weekend. Many of his fans rarely get a chance to see him play to see the player that he really is. The player they know is partially being manufactured by the NBA/ESPN marketing machine.
Many people are in love with his crossover. While his crossover is nasty, it is not something that is necessary to succeed in the NBA. It is not winning him any more games, as you can see by the Cleveland Cavaliers regular season record. When you look at the top players in the league, very rarely are their crossover skills being brought up. I’m a believer that if something does not help you win more games, it is either unnecessary, overrated, or not being utilized correctly.
There are times that he is too dribble happy, often not passing to open players. In many cases, he’s looking to shoot the ball, and it doesn’t matter if he’s being double teamed or not. This is not smart basketball, especially from a point guard. Even though he is a scorer, it is still his job to set up the offense. Some games, he is great at moving the ball, and other games are laughable. On the nights that his shooting is cold, this issue is magnified and has cost the Cavs several games this season that they could have won if he would have passed more. On one occasion, Anderson Varejao bailed him out and got the put-back for the win, even though Kyrie should have passed to him in the first place (wide open three feet from the rim, as time was running out, down by one point, while Kyrie was being smothered).
Some may say that he needs help, but that wouldn’t be 100 percent accurate. C.J. Miles, Dion Waiters, and Luol Deng can all get you 18-20 points (not all at the same time, but one of them should be able to do it on a nightly basis). Then on the inside, both Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson can get you a double-double on any given night. They are a young team that is still coming together, but their record should be better than it is, being that they play in a weak Eastern Conference.
Kyrie’s excessive dribbling has been part the reason for him getting hurt as frequent as he has. On many occasions, he puts himself at risk driving to the hoop instead of moving the ball. There is nothing wrong with him driving to the hoop, but you have to be smart about it, especially when you’re his size. If he doesn’t wise up on this, he may face similar injury issues later in his career that we are seeing from Dwayne Wade now.
When it comes to his shooting, many may not realize that he was a better shooter during his rookie season. Each year of his career, both his field goal percentage and three-point percentage have gone down. His attempts in both categories have gone up during the same time period. During his rookie season, he was shooting .469 and .399 from the arc. This year, those numbers are down to .428 and .365. Shot selection is a big reason for this. Even though his assists have gone up, there are many instances where he is shooting over double teams instead of hitting open players.
Then there is his defense. While he has gotten better, he still has a ways to go. At the point guard position, his job is to defend the other team’s point guard. Team defense begins with pressuring the guy bringing the ball up court. This is something that he desperately needs to get better and more consistent at. This is especially true not only because he is the point guard, but also because he is a team leader.
In the month of January, the following Point Guards have seen a rise in their stats when playing against the Cavs.
D.J Augustin (Chicago Bulls) 27 points, seven assists (averages 10.4 ppg, 4.5 apg)
Ty Lawson (Denver Nuggets) 19 points, 11 assists (averages 18 ppg, 8.9 apg)
Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers) 28 points, five assists (averages 21.2 ppg, 5.8 apg)
Kendall Marshall (L.A. Lakers) 10 points, 16 assists (averages 10.1 ppg, 9.1 apg)
Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento Kings) 26 points, six assists (averages 19.5 ppg, 6.3 apg)
Trey Burke (Utah Jazz) 17 points, six assists (averages 13.5 ppg, 5.6 apg)
Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia 76ers) 33 points, five assists (averages 17.5 ppg, 6.7 apg)
*averages may have since changed
The fact that these players are seeing a rise in their stats doesn’t reflect well on Kyrie’s defensive abilities. While he is not the only person to blame for these increases, defense starts at the top of the key. Once he can start doing a better job on pressuring the other team’s point guard, you won’t have other teams’ Point Guards increasing their numbers so regularly when they play the Cavs . This will also trickle down to the rest of the Cavs defense. If you can disrupt the point guard, you can disrupt the other team’s offensive flow, making things easier for the rest of the guys on the floor. There are a few teams that would be an exception to this, such as the Oklahoma City Thunder.
I would also like to note that D.J. Augustin is shooting 53 percent from the field, 22 ppg, and nine apg in five career starts against Kyrie. His career averages are 40.2 percent from the field, 9.6 ppg, and four apg. The drastic difference helps indicate that there is a serious hole in Kyrie’s defense that he is able to exploit.
Kyrie’s leadership ability is also questionable at best. Over the past few months, rumors of inner turmoil in the locker room have been popping up. There were rumors that Dion Waiters punched him. There are rumors that other players on the team don’t respect him. While there is no way to know for certain what type of leader he really is, teams with strong leaders don’t tend to have so many rumors about internal turmoil coming out. Make of that what you will.
After a recent loss in Portland, its been reported that some players decided to have a post-game practice directly after the game. It was lead by reserve point guard Jarrett Jack. The only players besides Jack that were reported to have participated were C.J. Miles, Alonzo Gee, and Earl Clark. While Irving wasn’t the only player who did not participate, it does not look good on his leadership that the backup point guard is calling a practice.
He also has yet to show that he can win on a regular basis. Every time he has a good game, both scoring and moving the ball, it seems like the next two games, he regresses. Some games, he plays like the superstar many view him to be. Other games, he’s chucking up shots and ending the game with lackluster numbers like 8-22 shooting on five assists, while other guys on the team are shooting 4-6 from the field.
The box score may show Kyrie scored 23 points with five assists, which looks respectable on paper, but the context in which he accumulated his stats are not the way to win games. As a point guard, on those nights where his shot is not falling and other guys’ shots are, he needs to do a better job getting them the ball. This may be why there have been rumors that the other players don’t respect him.
Until he starts winning on a regular basis, there will be questions about him. You can’t have that bad of record and be considered a superstar. As Charles Barkley referred to players putting stats up on bad teams that don’t get better, he is simply a “Looter in the Riot”.