The Cleveland Cavaliers have gone through periods in this young season where they look comatose. LeBron James has said as much - multiple times in fact - and so has head coach David Blatt. For the moment, the Cavs often look and play a team waiting for the season to get meaningful.
This makes some sense. The Cavs currently aren't at full strength and won't be for at least a little while longer. They also play in the weaker of the two conferences, although if early season records are any indication, the East is a bit better this year. By most estimates - and maybe the Cavs' - the real season starts when the playoffs start and when the Cavs play teams on their level. For Cleveland, June is the focus and the basketball being played now is for fine-tuning the product.
The other aspect of Cleveland's slow-ish start is that, along with Iman Shumpert, they are missing a certain point guard who wears a No. 2 jersey. Kyrie Irving, of course, has yet to return to the court after fracturing his kneecap in Game 1 of last June's Finals against the Warriors. And while it isn't known exactly when Irving will return to the court, it seems like it will be soon. He's said recently that he has a return date in mind (although he won't disclose it), he's played some 5 vs. 0 at practice and also reportedly 'destroyed' LeBron in a modified game of 1 vs. 1.
When Irving makes his return, the Cavs are getting one of the league's bright young stars. At 23, Irving is one of the league's most complete scorers. He can score in isolation and last season finished in the 95th percentile. He can score off the ball, as last year he shot 46.6 percent on catch and shoot threes (which accounted for 16.9 percent of his shots) and 45.6 percent on shots where he took zero dribbles, which accounted for 22.5 percent of his shots. He's also a highly skilled finisher inside (he made 52.5 percent of his shots within 10 feet of the rim last year) and is able to get inside because he has arguably the best handles in the league.
He also can take over games. Remember when he dropped 57 on the Spurs?
Most importantly, Irving is an upgrade in both style and substance over Matthew Dellavedova and Mo Williams. This isn't a knock on either Dellavedova or Williams - both have filled in for nicely for Irving and should be more than adequate backups for Irving the rest of the season - but Irving is simply better. What Williams provides as a shot creator for himself and others, Irving is better . When Dellavedova provides as a shooter off the ball, Irving is better and, unlike Delly, teams won't sag off Irving. The one area where there may be some dip will be on defense (which is where Dellavedova shines most of all), but if Irving puts in as much effort as he did last year and the Cavs get both Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov back at full strength, the Cavs can maintain a defense that is just outside the top-10 at the moment.
For the Cavs, there probably will be some adjustment to having Irving back on the floor. The Cavs offense with Williams and Dellavdova at point guard is a bit simpler. For one, they aren't always the ones bringing up the ball and initiating the offense. LeBron, especially when games get close, is the one bringing the ball down the court and acting as the point guard. When this happens, Williams and Dellavedova settle in as safety valves on offense and primarily hide out behind the three-point line. For the year, 30.3 percent of Williams' shots have been catch and shoot attempts, while 34.7 percent of Dellavedova's shots are catch and shoot attempts. Dellavedova has also settled in nicely as a distributor, as he currently has a career high assist percentage with the same turnover percentage he had in his first two years while also also averaging 1.6 secondary assists per game, the seventh best per game average in the league.
Williams has had a slightly larger offensive role than Dellavedova when he's been healthy and it's the closest look at what types of sets the Cavs will run with Irving upon his return. Take Williams' 29-point performance against the Jazz for instance. While he took a few mid-range shots (another shot Irving will likely take upon his return), a large portion of his shots came off action created for others. In particular, Williams has found openings when he runs pick and rolls with Kevin Love and the defense sags off him even a little.
Love, of course, is also the Cavs player likely to be most affected by Irving's return as it is a net positive for James. As has been well documented, Love had a disappointing season last year while Irving had his breakout season and validated his talent. This year, Love is looking like his old self and as compared to last year, his numbers are up across the board. Most notably, Love is taking 2.4 more shots overall per game this year while also taking 1.7 more threes per game. He's also doing so with the Cavs playing at roughly the same slow pace that they did last year and, aside from James, without another ball dominant player on the floor.
In a sense, what Love is doing at the moment is taking on a similar offensive burden as to what Irving did last year. His shots per game will probably dip a tad when Irving returns - although Williams, Dellavedova and others will lose shots too - but there isn't reason to think that what the Cavs have done this year to make Love more of a focal point has to change. In fact, Irving may make them harder to defend.
Take these Love post-ups sets for example and look at how the Magic defended Dellavedova on Monday.
Although Dellavedova is a respectable three-point shooter - he's shooting 38.5 percent from three this year - he's not dangerous enough off the dribble to warrant his man sticking with him. When he runs a pick and roll with Love, teams are betting they can rotate back to him fast enough to stop him from getting a clean look at the basket. When Irving back, leaving Irving that open is basically giving the Cavs free, easy looks at the basket.
This will all certainly take some adjusting for Irving and the Cavs. Some tactical decisions - who out of Irving and James plays more with bench units, how Williams and Dellavedova will get their minutes, how much of last year's sets will be implemented, etc. - will be made and tweaked over time. Irving himself will probably take some time to get back to being the best version of his self.
But that's to be expected and the Cavs with LeBron, Love and the rest are built to let Irving reintegrate himself at his own pace. What should also be expected is that when Irving comes back - whenever that is - he's going to make the Cavs better and perhaps make the season feel a little more real.