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Exploring Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving's incredible start

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Kyrie Irving has been good. Ridiculously good.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In some ways, Kyrie Irving is a microcosm of the Cavs. The offense was supposed to be great, the defense not so much. The start was rocky, and there is still a lot of work to be done.

There are promising trends in Kyrie Irving's game. There are caveats too. It's been 18 games, and some of the numbers don't cover a sample size that large. All that out of the way, let's dive in.

Offense

You don't need stats to tell you that Kyrie has been insane offensively. With Portland sticking out as an obvious exception, Kyrie's offensive game has been on point. 22 points, 4.8 assists, and 3.4 rebounds a game is nice. That Irving is shooting 49% from the field and 42% from 3 as a high usage point guard is insane.

Before the season, we wondered how Kyrie would handle playing off the ball, but he has been fantastic. With LeBron James controlling the ball Kyrie has excelled. 38% of his baskets are assisted, including 62% of his threes. During the Cavs 6 game winning streak, 40% of Irving's baskets have been assisted, including a staggering 90% of his threes. As an off ball player, Irving has dominated defenses over that stretch, shooting 55% from the field and 44% from three. An added bonus to that extra space? Irving is dominating at the rim, as displayed in the two charts below.

Kyrie Charts

If Irving were a Center or Forward, 63% shooting in the restricted area would be phenomenal. That he is doing this at 6 foot 3 is mildly absurd.

When Irving has been on the court this season, the Cavs offense has been sublime, with an offensive rating of 110.3. When he is on the bench? 94.8. 94.8! That would be 2 points worse than the 29th worst team, the Detroit Pistons, and 3 points ahead of the hapless 76ers who are last with a rating of 91. Part of that is that Irving, Love, and LeBron James play a ton of minutes together, part of it is how bad the bench is, but it underscores the excellence of Irving as well.

Defense

Much has been made lately of Irving's defense. He has said all the right things about trying harder on D, and visibly, you can see he is. Has he been spectacular? No. Has he been good? Probably not, but he has had some good outings. He's trying though, and he is fitting into the structure of what the Cavs are trying to do defensively. Irving has allowed opponents to shoot right near their average, but players aren't getting to the rim, and he is doing a good job of closing out on shots. 54% of shots that Irving's opponents are taking are coming from 15 feet or further out, and they're shooting only 37% on those shots, 1% below their season average. So while the overall may not be GOOD, I will confidently argue against anyone that it is passable.

During this 6 game winning streak though, Irving has probably been better. Opponents are shooting 38.7% against him, 5% below average. They're only shooting 26% on threes, and 33% on shots from 15 feet or more out which comprise 52% of the total attempts. For the season, the Cavs have a defensive rating of 103 with Irving on the court, which is mediocre. For the winning streak, they have a rating of 96.6 which is elite. With him on the bench during that same time period, the Cavs D rating jumps to 105.6. Does that mean it is all Irving? No, of course not, but it means that you can craft a successful defense WITH Irving, and the shooting %s suggest that he might be carrying his own weight. That 6 game sample includes John Wall, Brandon Knight, and Kyle Lowry, three of the East's best guards, so while there is some argument for poor competition overall, Irving's individual task has been a large one. There is still room for improvement, but these results are encouraging.

Kyrie Irving may never be a lockdown defender, or a pass first point guard, but the Cavs play really well when he is on the court. He is one of two players (Steph Curry being the other) to shoot 45% from the field, 40% from three, and put up 20 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists per game (Min 2 3PM). He's having a pretty great year. Last year, we might have missed out on the "3rd year leap", but this year with the help of LeBron James and Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving has blossomed into a complete offense force, and hopefully is working his way into being a defensive force as well.

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