April 17, 2014

Opposing Teams to Kyrie Irving: “No Paint for You!”

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)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Yep time for the youngster to adjust to the opposing adjustments.  Having Byron Scott around should only help.  It’s the maturation process in full effect.

  • Kunal

    Paint Nazi?

  • Adam

     It’s easier to take away Irving’s strengths when your other offensive options are either over-the-hill, young or scrubs.  If Irving ever gets a couple of complimentary scorers around him it will make it tougher for defenses to overload on his drives into the lane.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    It makes sense for other teams to pack the paint… the Cavs aren’t making them pay for it lately.  I’m not sure I can count high enough to get to the number of open three-pointers that Gee, Casspi, Parker, Harris, and Jamison have missed lately.  Sloan also isn’t really a threat from out there like Sessions was.  Kyrie’s shooting percentage from 3 is still good, but it’s fallen off a lot from what it was a month ago.  Until the Cavs hit their 3′s more consistently, expect more of the same (i.e. losses).

  • Harv 21

    We’ve seen this movie before. With no help there’s no poison to pick, just crowd the kid. There’s no pick and roll without Andy. And he’s a PG, not the freak who can power over and through for a dunk. Add the team playing out the string with no defense and there’s no transition scores.

    Chillax, Kyrie, don’t try to channel your inner Iverson and pick up bad habits, even if your teammates keep tossing up ugly slop. Help is coming real soon, hopefully.

  • cmm13

    “Most teams, at least the last couple games, are really packing the lane and forcing us to make jump shots,” said Byron Scott. … “One way you can combat that is to play good solid defense.”

    I think he means “one way THIS team has to combat this is to play good defense”.

    Most other teams would just make the open jump shots the opposing team is giving you while packing the lane.

    Can’t wait to see what Grant does to provide Kyrie with that versatile wing scorer.

  • porkchopexpress

    First off lets not underestimate what a huge impact the loss of Sessions has had on the win total.  Being able to have the best combined 48 minutes of PG play in the league is not to be sneezed at.  April is going to be real rough too, 5 stretch in 6 nights with 3 playoff teams and Det, Wash on the Road.  In all 19 games in 23 days, thats baseball scheduling if you ask me. If adversity is the true test of character we’re about to find out what KI is made of basketball wise.  Its not out of the imagination that we end up in the 4th spot for lottery balls, and with the obvious lack of talent probably it would be welcome.  Like I’ve said before you don’t have to root for the losing to happen, its going to come all on its own.