The tape may be out. Forty-two games in to his NBA career, opposing defenses are starting to clamp down on rookie point guard Kyrie Irving. The result, at least if we are using ‘win total’ as a guage, has not been pretty with the team dropping four straight contests — seven of their last eight — with the most recent being a double-digit loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
A duel-citizen off of the court, Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving lives in two locations on the court — his opponents nightmares and the paint. Through his rookie campaign, Irving has taken an average of 5.9 shots per game at the rim, placing him fourth-highest among point guards in the top-15 in scoring. Slicing and spinning and bouncing his way through the lane, Irving has dazzled with lay-ins of all shapes and sizes; fourth quarter heroics, including, but not limited to, a handful of game-winners.
On Sunday afternoon, Phoenix’s Steve Nash’s lone defensive endeavor was to keep the first-overall pick in front of him. In the off-moments when the 38-year-old two-time MVP’s feet would fail him, the Suns would provide a boat load of help-side defense. Two days later, the uber athletic 76ers clogged the lane like an eight-man front, forcing the speedy, play-making halfback to bounce his game outside or force his teammates to step up their usage rates.
“Most teams, at least the last couple games, are really packing the lane and forcing us to make jump shots,” said Byron Scott following Tuesday night’s loss. “We haven’t done a good job of that the past couple games on a consistent basis. One way you can combat that is to play good solid defense, rebound the ball and get out on the break. Right now they are just packing in.”
Irving, in turn, has seen his average of shots at the rim drop from 5.9 per game to 3.0 over the last four games, essentially representing a complete dicing of the rookie’s game. On Tuesday night, Irving didn’t take a lay-up until there was 1:04 left in the second quarter. This missed attempt would be sandwiched between a slew of 20-plus foot jump shots, several three-pointers, and a 43-foot heave in attempt to beat the halftime buzzer.
Thankfully, for Irving and the Cavaliers, the rookie comes with a skill set that includes slashing to the rim as well as long-range shooting. Of the top 15 scoring point guards, only Golden State’s Stephen Curry boasts a better conversion rate from long range and Curry is among the best in all of the NBA. Not helping matters, however, are the times when Irving opts to get his teammates involved and their shots are not consistently falling.
“I have played a few games in the league now, so teams have enough film on me to know my strengths and weaknesses, and they are trying to take it away, and they’re doing a good job at that.” said Irving on Tuesday night.
Lauded as a player who sees the game in frames as opposed to a rookie who’s overwhelmed by the speed of the game, Irving has had recent bouts with turnovers in traffic. Praised as a player who maintains optimism and keeps a positive outlook on things even when they’re not going as planned, there were moments on Tuesday night where the point guard was visibly frustrated with players not being where he thought they would. While it is tough to fault the newly acquired Luke Walton with anything at this stage of the game, Irving would draw a double-team only to attempt to pass it to a wide open and should-have-been-cutting Walton; the result was a needle-threading pass that sailed out of bounds.
Judging by how opposing defenses have started to trap Irving high and ensuring that his world class game stays out of the painted area, it appears that teams are giving the Cavaliers’ supporing cast less credit than ever. Undoubtedly, the recent trade of Ramon Sessions could play a factor, but when Anthony Parker — the 36-year old who averages just 5.9 shots per game — is your leading scorer for an evening (with 14), adjustments most certainly need to be made.
“The last three games have been rough to find my rhythm,” said Irving. “Teams are giving me different looks every game. It’s an adjustment for me, and I am doing the best I can. Going forward, I just have to take my time a little more.”
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)