When the selections for All-Star starters were released on Thursday, it was revealed that John Wall and Kyle Lowry would be starting at the two guard positions. This meant that Kyrie Irving would not be eligible for the Rose Rule bonus to his rookie max extension (unless he wins MVP), and would need to rely on the coaches vote for him to make the team. The two-time All-Star has been enjoying the best season of his career and deserves to be a member of the team.
Everybody knows that Kyrie Irving was put on this planet to get buckets. He is one of the most electrifying below the rim players in the game, with the ability to demolish a defenders ankles before knocking down any jumper. But the offensive impact he is having on the team in comparison to past seasons is staggering. The Cavaliers offensive rating for the season (points scored per 100 possessions) is 106.6. That number increases to 110.5 when Irving is on the court and and is an abysmal 95.8 when he is on the bench. The second lowest off court individual offensive rating on the team is LeBron James at 100.4 (the Cavs score 100.4 points per 100 possessions when LeBron sits. Simply put, the Cavs offense has been putrid when Irving is not out on the court.
Irving's 56.7 true shooting percentage is a career high and he is also averaging a career low in turnovers a game at 2.2. For all the talk of Irving being a black hole on offense, he is 15th in the league in passes per game (per sports VU) despite being a secondary facilitator on the team next to LeBron James. He is also sporting a career low usage rate of 24.1 percent; which is tied for 44th in the league with Tony Parker.
One of the biggest knocks on Irving over the first three years of his career was a lack on consistency in his effort and his terrible defense. Those that watched him play with Team USA over the summer were treated to a glimpse of the two-way player that Irving was striving to become. The effort that was lacking in the past suddenly became visible, even if he still was out of position. It usually takes a point guard a long time to learn how to consistently play defense at the NBA level, and Irving was not an exception.
When the season started, it was clear that Irving's play on the defensive end of the court had progressed beyond the level he displayed with the national team. While he is still a relatively bad pick and roll defender (that might be generous), he has developed into an above average man defender and a better off-ball defender. The team still has a 1.5 better defensive rating when he is off the court compared to on the court. But when you factor in the quality of competition Irving faces when he is on the court, the minutes he logs and the fact that he is accepting responsibility by not being hidden on defense and checking the other team's point guard, it's a dramatic improvement from what we've seen in the past.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have not lived up to expectations up to this point in the season. Chemistry and injury issues have caused them to stumble out of the gate. That, combined with missing LeBron James, Shawn Marion and the odd game from Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving over the toughest stretch of season caused the record to plummet to the .500 mark. But Irving should not be punished for these shortcomings as he's been sensational this season and the Cavs are dramatically better when he is on the court. The roster needed work, but Irving and the big three have been fantastic. Even though there's still a ton of room for improvement, these numbers don't lie:
Cavs are +196 in 847 mins with the Big Three. They are -129 in 1,270 other mins. pic.twitter.com/J4t5qJceDM— Jacob Rosen (@WFNYJacob) January 24, 2015
Irving's play and improvements this season deserve recognition. He is playing like an All-Star.