1. Coming into the season, there was reason to believe the pairing of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving might encounter some speed bumps. First, Brian Windhorst had reported that Irving's presence made LeBron's return much more unlikely. Second, the pairing of Dwyane Wade and James was at once incredibly successful and awkward. Both guys excelled with the ball, and Miami often staggered their minutes. This was partly a way to maximize the time the HEAT had at least one on the court, but it was also because neither were totally comfortable playing off the ball.
2. Irving, on the other hand, had spent two decidedly uncomfortable years trying to find ways to share the ball with Dion Waiters. This column is named after the fact that they never really pulled it off, but the point isn't to rehash it here. Irving wasn't a great spot-up shooter last season, and has always enjoyed dribbling. LeBron often operates as a point forward. How would it work?
3. Stunningly well. In LeBron James minutes with Kyrie Irving on the court, the Cavs outscore opponents by 10.9 points per 100 possessions. When James plays and Irving sits, the Cavs are narrowly outscored. James' true shooting rate with Irving on the floor is an elite 60.3. When Irving sits, James' true shooting is a pedestrian 53.6.
4. It works the other way. When Irving plays and LeBron sits, his true shooting rate is 55.9. When they share the court, Kyrie's true shooting reaches 59.1. The Cavs have been really good when these two play together. On a simple level, it makes sense. They are good passers, capable three point shooters, and provide potent challenges that defenses have, thus far, been unable to capably respond to. But it's also impressive as both push and pull and acquiesce and pick spots.
5. So far, the odd man out is Kevin Love. Except he's not. The Big 3 have played 965 minutes together this season, and the Cavs are outscoring opponents by 11.8 points per 100 possessions in that time. They are blitzing teams, even if Love hasn't gotten completely on track individually.
6. What about during the Cavs' 11 game win streak? The Big 3 have played 209 minutes together and are outscoring opponents by 24.2 points over 100 possessions in that time. That's, you know, absurd. It represents the best net efficiency total of three-man lineup the Cavs have employed for over 100 minutes during the 11 games. It's also a small sample. But if you are spending your days lamenting the presence of Kevin Love, there are a lot of other things going on in the world that might be more pressing to worry about. Like Matthew Dellavedova.
I kid, I kid! I remain this blog's biggest Delly supporter.
7. What about the Cavs as a whole? Eleven straight wins is cool, but do you have any crazy stats that can make me feel even better about the team?
I do! Man, this blog is the place for you.
The Cavs are outscoring teams by 13.3 points per 100 possessions since January 15, when the win streak began. That's the best net efficiency in the league since that date. Their second win in the streak came on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers, who have the second best net efficiency in the whole NBA for the season.
8. For the year, the Cavs have the 22nd best defense in the NBA, giving up 105 points per 100 possessions. It's bad, it's a bummer, and it has to improve if the team wants to win a championship.
Since January 15th, though, things are a bit rosier. They are giving up 100.4 points per 100 possessions, a figure that puts them 13th in the NBA over that period. It's average. There are quite a few teams playing pretty good defense lately, though. If you compared the Cavs 100.4 rating versus the NBA for the season, it'd be tied for 8th in the league.
9. Let's manipulate the data into a smaller sample size that will make us feel even better. The Cavs didn't play great defense against the Lakers or Clippers to start their streak. What's their rating look like if we take those games out and just look at the last nine games?
The Cavs are giving up just 97 points per 100 possessions over their last nine games. Over that stretch of time, it ranks sixth in the league. If they had sustained that mark over the full season, it'd rank ... first. It'd rank first.
10. The good times won't last like this forever, but the team appears to be pretty darn good. For all the talk of Kevin Love's struggles, there just aren't many teams in the NBA who have multiple guys playing at the level of James and Irving. The supporting cast has improved, thanks largely to David Griffin. The team still has time for a rough patch that they can once again rebound from.
11. One final thought: The Cavs adding Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, and Timofey Mozgov feels a little bit like adding Delonte West, Wally Sczcerbiak, and Ben Wallace, right? Those pieces helped the Cavs with fit as well, and the nearly knocked off the eventual champion Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
I'm having fun, I hope you are too.
Stats courtesy of nba.com/stats