After a hard earned victory last night in Toronto, the Golden State Warriors will be in Cleveland tonight to take on a gritty Cavaliers team (tip off 4:00 p.m. PT) that is led by the incomparable Kyrie Irving.
Let’s get it out of the way from the get go: he might just be the most entertaining scoring point guard in the NBA.
With Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose both injured, the title of best point guard in the Eastern Conference has to reside with the former Blue Devil who has been nothing short of sensational this season.
His ball handling, shooting and ability to dissect defenses make him incredibly difficult to stop.
Irving can pretty much get to any point on the court that he wishes to get to and from there he has to ability to pull up for the jumper and drain it over frustrated defenders or simply breakdown defenders off the bounce and get all the way to the rim. MySynergySports tells us that the Duke product is converting 50.5 percent of his field goal attempts in isolation situations, and 46.3 percent of his 3-point shots in isos.
The Cavs’ star point guard essentially toys with defenders because of his ability not only to blow by them — ask Dwight about that — but also finish with either hand around the basket even if big men are waiting for him there.
Opposing defenses have a tough time defending him on every area of the court because he has developed an understanding of how to take advantage of the multiple schemes in teams’ game plans. For instance, in the pick-and-roll, he can easily split the trap and get into the lane to create some havoc for his opponents.
Mind you, if the opposition chooses to hedge hard on him, he can pull the extra defender far enough to open up the court and find the open man for a high percentage shot.
But if the defender gets a little lazy and waits for him at the free throw line in pick-and-roll defense, good luck. Irving will either fire away from 3-point range or step inside it and take a shot from about 16-to-23 feet, which he is hitting 49 percent of the time per Hoopdata.
Given that the reigning Player of the Week has all of these scoring tools at his disposal, he tends to attract a lot of attention and thus can feed his teammates for open shots whenever extra defenders converge on him.
This in essence explains why the Cavaliers are such a better offensive unit whenever Irving is healthy and on the court playing.
NBA.com’s advanced stats tool tells us that Cleveland scores 102.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, but sees the figure plummet to 95 points per 100 possessions whenever he is off it. For comparison’s sake, the Washington Wizards produce 95.2 points per 100 possessions.
In addition, he’s every bit as good in the clutch and also manages to get the team to raise its play in such situations. So far this year, the Cavaliers have the 11th best offensive efficiency in clutch situations (defined as last five minutes of the game with scoring margin within five points) because their point guard has simply been brilliant down the stretch of games.
According to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, Irving is second in total clutch scoring this season, and if we project his total over 36 minutes, he’s averaging 39.5 points on 46.9 percent field goal shooting.
It goes without saying that a matchup involving Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving would simply be a joy to watch and could even give us a glimpse into a possible alternate future where the NBA has multiple great shooters at the point guard position.
Sadly, with Curry twisting his right ankle last night in Toronto, he is listed as day-to-day, which leads us to believe it’s quite possible he will be absent from tonight’s contest.
Nonetheless, Irving promises to make this contest interesting.
Quick update: Stephen Curry is listed as questionable for this contest and Kyrie Irving is as well (sick) after missing the morning shootaround.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com.
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