Kyrie Irving didn’t have a great shooting series against the Raptors, and unfortunately, his shot hasn’t looked great over the course of the playoffs.
Irving is shooting 39.9 percent from the field and 28.1 percent from three for what makes a pretty ghastly shot chart.
Historically, a Kyrie Irving off his game has resulted in pretty ghastly results for the Cavaliers while he is on the floor, given his shoot-first mentality and famously terrible defense.
Against the Raptors, Irving flipped the script. The Cavaliers absolutely shredded Toronto when Irving was on the floor, outscoring the Raptors by 24.7 points per 100 possessions. How did Irving overcome his poor shooting to still be a positive contributor?
He created for his teammates better than at any point in his playoff career, and LeBron James took notice, via Dave McMenamin.
“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 averaged 8.5 assists while still putting up 22.3 points per game, so he was able to balance his shot creation alongside getting his teammates involved.
Irving had an assist rate of 39.1 percent with an insane 4.86 assist-to-turnover ratio on a 31.0 usage percentage. Basically, he handled the ball a ton and still looked for his teammates aggressively without turning the ball over. That ratio wasn’t created by playing cautiously and never getting into the teeth of the defense.
Our own Justin Rowan did a deep dive earlier this season on Kyrie’s playmaking, and this is just more evidence that he’s done an unbelievable job of growing his game.
LeBron James speculated on just how much more growth Irving has in him, also via Dave McMenamin’s piece on ESPN.com
“He's 25?” James asked of Irving. “He's going to be in the position to carry the franchise on his own in his prime.”
There’s a real tendency to assume that Irving’s remaining growth is going to be marginal at best. He’s not built like Giannis Antetokounmpo, with all the physical gifts in the world but an obviously unreliable jump shot.
Irving, by contract, came into the league with a relatively realized skillset in the traditional sense. He’s not an elite athlete, but was unbelievably skilled as a finisher, shooter and dribbler. That isn’t where his growth will come.
Instead, it will be a more subtle transition, starting to shed himself of the frustrating tendencies that his detractors often complain about; instances of tunnel vision on the offensive end, dying on screens, getting to the free throw line at a below average rate for his skill set.
The eventual decline of LeBron James will remain one of the most fascinating subplots in league history. We haven’t seen someone this good for this long since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the Cavaliers entire identity is built around him.
Once his decline begins, the burden to pick up the slack will fall on Kyrie’s shoulders. LeBron certainly thinks he’s up to the task.