Kyrie Irving has returned, and you'd never guess it, but he's already been making an impact on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Kyrie's played in four games since his return: wins over the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks, the Golden State Warriors loss, and Monday night's win over the Phoenix Suns. In those games, he's struggled to find his rhythm shooting the ball, as he's shooting 34 percent from the field and 25 percent from three for a very pedestrian 13.0 points per game.
However, the Cavs are still 3-1 when Kyrie is active, and that one loss was by six points to the league's best team. And while his production has been iffy, the Cavs are definitely benefiting from having Kyrie on the floor so far. Here's the lineup breakdown for the four games that Kyrie has played in:
|Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love
|Kyrie/Love, No LeBron
|Kyrie/LeBron, No Love
|LeBron/Love, No Kyrie
Granted, these numbers are small sample size theater, because they only include four games, one of which was against the 76ers. However, there are several interesting notes here.
- Naturally, the big three playing together is where Kyrie has gotten a bulk of his minutes. This has also been the setting where the Cavs' offense has been at its best with Kyrie on the floor, which makes sense, given Kyrie's offensive struggles. This may be a hot take, but the big three playing together might just lead to good consistent offense.
- Interestingly, the Cavs have been lights out defensively in all scenarios with Kyrie on the floor, minus the big three. An explanation for this could be that Kyrie has spent a lot of his time playing with Tristan Thompson and/or Iman Shumpert, and those lineups have been absolute hot fire defensively. The Irving/Thompson pairing has a defensive rating of 89.8 in 44 minutes, while the Irving/Shump backcourt has a defensive rating of 60.9 in 26 minutes. We'll have to see if that stays true as Kyrie gets more time, but it looks like that threesome could be a good choice to keep together when the Cavs want to give LeBron or Love a rest.
- Interestingly, the Cavs haven't really experimented with playing Kyrie with only one of Love or LeBron yet. Both scenarios have worked out just fine for Cleveland, with the Kyrie/LeBron pair getting more minutes and slightly outplaying the Kyrie/Love pairing. As Kyrie gets more minutes, I'd expect the Cavs to dabble with playing two of the three together.
- It's worth noting that Kyrie's least effective two-man pairings have been with Mo Williams (-5.5 net rating) and Matthew Dellavedova (+2.2). Given that lineups that pair Irving with Shumpert (+19.3) and J.R. Smith (+17.3), seem to have had more success so far, that's going to make the Cavs' point guard rotation something to monitor moving forward, especially with Delly playing so well without Irving.