So far this postseason, Kyrie Irving is averaging 23.8 points and 5.8 assists per game. That's pretty good. However, he’s only doing it on 39.9 percent shooting from the field (down from 47.5 percent last postseason) and 28.1 percent from three (down from 44.0 percent last postseason). That's not so good.
Well, contrary to popular opinion, I think Kyrie Irving has actually played pretty well so far this postseason.
Don’t believe me? Well I won’t tell you what to think, Mr. Internet Sports Article Purveyor, but what I will do is make a case for why I believe Kyrie has actually had a really solid postseason thus far and explain why I believe his lackluster shooting performance this postseason is likely to bounce back. (Note: my argument doesn’t include the law of averages…sorry, math majors.)
Let’s start by talking about how well Kyrie has played this postseason. I know, I know, the perception around Kyrie is that he hasn’t been very good. I’m not a contrarian by nature, and I’m no devil’s advocate, but watching him play these last couple rounds, I’ve seen a different Kyrie Irving than most seem to have.
I get his poor shooting percentage, and we’ll get to that here in a bit, but that isn’t the only facet of his game. While most look at Kyrie as the scoring machine and view anything outside of constant scoring barrages as a disappointment, that doesn’t factor into my argument as to why I think he’s had a good postseason thus far. I say this because of everything he’s done outside of scoring the basketball.
In terms of his development as a complete basketball player, the beginning of this postseason has me feeling great about the development and maturation of his game going forward. He just turned 25 years old a couple months ago, and I think we’re beginning to see signs of his game expanding and becoming more well-rounded as he nears his prime.
In the Raptors series, Kyrie had an offensive rating of 119.5 (third-highest on the team behind Channing Frye and Kevin Love), and a defensive rating of 94.8 (only behind Tristan Thompson, who had a 90.0 DRtg). Kyrie’s net rating of 24.7 was the best on the team for the series (slightly ahead of Tristan, who was at 24.5 and has also had an understatedly-good postseason thus far).
But wait, there’s more. Kyrie averaged 8.5 assists per game in the Raptors series (LeBron was second on the team with 5.3 assists per game) and had an assist percentage of 39.1 percent (up from 27.8 percent in the regular season). Empirically, this is Kyrie’s next step on his path towards becoming a complete offensive player: becoming a distributor.
But don’t just take my word for it Instead, here’s LeBron James’:
“Kyrie can score on anybody he wants,” James told ESPN. “ANYBODY. On a consistent level. His next growth, which I believe is going to make him a great, an all-time great, is when he can also consistently make other guys around him better. Which he is doing now. This is great to see. It’s always great to be a part of somebody’s maturation process. You know what I’m saying? I love it.”
Kyrie has never been known as a great set-up man, but there were signs throughout the regular season that he is beginning the process of making that a focal point in his game, and it was on full display in this series. Kyrie’s shots haven’t really been falling this postseason, and in the past, he would normally just shut down and become more of a liability than an asset on the court. But that was then, and this is now. This version of Kyrie has found a way to make strong contributions in other facets of the game that has made him one of the most valuable players on the team in this postseason thus far despite his down shooting numbers.
Also of note with his passing: he wasn’t forcing the issue. There are many point guards that get a ton of assists but also accumulate a ton of turnovers because they too often try to force passes that just aren’t there, but Kyrie stayed cool, calm, and collected with the ball in his hands and made sure to take good care of it in this series.
As I mentioned earlier, Kyrie averaged 8.5 assists per game in the Raptors series, but he only averaged 1.8 turnovers per game to go with it, good for an assist/turnover ratio of 4.86 for the series (over double his regular season assist/turnover ratio of 2.32), which is exceptionally good, especially for a player that has the ball in his hands as often as he does.
Kyrie also did a good job defensively in this series. As I mentioned earlier, Kyrie had a DRtg of 94.8 in the Raptors series, and while that figure doesn’t tell the whole story of his individual defensive impact, it’s a good barometer to indicate he’s making solid contributions on that end when he’s been on the court. Kyrie also averaged 2.0 steals per game in the series and had a steal percentage of 36.4 percent (up from 23.3 percent in the regular season), which is a good indication that he’s cutting off passing lanes and being aggressive on that end. We’ve seen that Kyrie can be a difference-maker defensively when he really wants to be, and there were signs of that happening in this series.
So, as you can see, Kyrie helped in many areas outside of his shooting to bolster the Cavs in their sweep of the Raptors in the second round, but let’s be real, you’re reading this to see what the hell I’m talking about when it comes to Kyrie’s shooting numbers. “Sure he’s played well outside of that, but come on Dylan, is Kyrie gonna be able to get out of this shooting slump?” I hear you, Mr. Theoretical Comment Section Guy, and I’m here to appease you.
I think Kyrie will be able to get out of his shooting slump (I’m still not using the law of averages to explain this, math major guy…I’m sorry). But don’t just take my word for it. Instead, here’s @DHaines1 on Twitter (which may or may not also be me, but I digress).
So far this postseason, Kyrie is shooting 3-24 (12.5%) on open threes, yet he's 9-23 (39.1%) on tightly-guarded threes. So that's something.— Dylan Haines (@DHaines1) May 8, 2017
Kyrie is shooting 7-33 (21.2%) on threes considered open or wide-open this postseason. You have to think he'll bounce back from that.— Dylan Haines (@DHaines1) May 8, 2017
Last postseason, Kyrie shot 11-30 (36.7%) on tightly-guarded threes, 25-49 (51.0%) on open threes, and 14-32 (43.8%) on wide-open threes.— Dylan Haines (@DHaines1) May 8, 2017
So to summarize, Kyrie is missing a TON of open jump shots. Last postseason, Kyrie was 25-49 (51 percent) on three pointers considered to be open (4-6 feet between the nearest defender). So far this postseason, Kyrie is 3-24 (12.5 percent) on open three pointers. So it really is that simple: Kyrie is missing open jump shots. Sure, a lot of it has to do with Kyrie taking a lot of these open jumpers out of rhythm, but he’s getting the looks. He’s just not knocking them down.
You hope that he’s not missing these jumpers because there’s something wrong with his surgically-repaired knee (he discussed how his knee is prone to flare-ups around the end of the regular season), but on the surface, he’s just simply not knocking down his open looks right now.
In the regular season, Kyrie shot 40.4 percent on three pointers considered open or wide-open, but so far this postseason he’s shooting 21.2 percent on such shots. You know what they say, if it looks like an aberration and it walks like an aberration, it’s probably an aberration (they say that, right?).
I know I said I wouldn’t mention the law of averages in this analysis (twice, but who’s counting?), but fictitious peer pressure has finally gotten to me. With as good a shooter as Kyrie has proven to be throughout his entire career (38.3 percent career three point shooter), I would be really surprised if he weren’t able to regain his shooting form from the outside in this postseason. Kyrie shot 40.1 percent from three this regular season, yet he’s shooting just 28.1 percent from three so far this postseason despite coming into this postseason as a career 44.3 percent three point shooter in the postseason. I have to think he’ll start knocking down his open looks sooner rather than later.
Kyrie has a history of playing at his best when his team needs him to, and that was on full display in the fourth quarter of Game 4 against the Raptors. Despite struggling with his shot for the entirety of the postseason up to that point, Kyrie put the offense on his back and carried the Cavs down the stretch to clinch the game (and the series), as he scored 11 straight points for the Cavs in the final six minutes of the game and looked really good in doing so, hitting stepback threes reminiscent of his title-clinching dagger against the Warriors and acrobatic layups with the greatest of ease, just as we’ve become accustomed to seeing from him.
It seems overwhelmingly likely that the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are going to meet for a third consecutive time in the NBA Finals. If the Cavs want to take home a second consecutive title, Irving will have to be as good as he possibly can be. I’m confident he’ll be ready to accept the challenge.