Kyrie Irving has made his feelings known after requesting a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a jarring report broken by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and the Miami Heat happens to be among his preferred destinations.
Now keep in mind Cleveland has zero incentive to trade Kyrie to a team on his list, which also includes the Spurs, Wolves, and–for some bizarre reason–the Knicks, but let’s assume Kyrie to Miami is feasible, at least on Cleveland’s end.
It does make some sense for the Cavs to have interest in players like Hassan Whiteside, who’d add much-needed rim protection to counter the Warriors; Justise Winslow (defense, defense, defense); and Goran Dragic, a sweet-shooting guard who can play on and off the ball and isn’t anywhere near as putrid defensively as Kyrie (more on this in a moment). The question is whether Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, and the Heat’s front office consider Kyrie to be the type of disgruntled whale that, upon acquisition, would thrust this franchise back on track toward title contention.
I don’t think Kyrie Irving is that player.
It’s no slight to him as only a handful, maybe seven or eight, are that guy, and LeBron James remains in a tier to himself. It comes down to this: For all of Kyrie’s magical talents, his game has too many holes to drive a true contender and no area is as warty as his defense.
Any way you slice it, whether it be film or advanced stats, Kyrie isn’t merely bad defensively, he’s downright appalling. I listed Dragic’s stats as well to provide some perspective, especially because he would be likely traded in the Irving theoretical.
- Of the 486 NBA players tracked in Defensive Points Saved (learn more about it here), Irving’s -115 DPS ranks 478th. For reference, Dragic’s figure was -34. For Total Points Saved, which measures overall impact, Irving was a +126.5 (31st) while Dragic (30th) was a +131.7 (13 players were over 300).
- Players shot more than 5 percent better than their overall field goal percentage when defended by Kyrie, and a jarring 9 percent better within 10 feet. Dragic’s overall figure was – 0.1 percent.
- Irving ranked 71st among 82 point guards in ESPN’s Defensive RPM. Dragic ranked 65th.
Now obviously players can grow, especially considering Kyrie is just 25 and would be injected with a heavy dose of Miami Heat culture, but he’s been in the league for six years, the last three of which he had the opportunity to evolve next to the greatest player the planet has ever seen. Kyrie is a combination of elite offensive talent, superstar glimpses, horrendous defense, and questionable decision-making. He’s a “maddening riddle,” as SB Nation’s Tom Ziller explained in June.
It’s not just the defense that’s concerning with Kyrie, it’s his mindset. Nobody’s doubting his ability as a shot-maker, dribbling savant, and scorer but he does not create opportunities for teammates at an elite level, or at least he doesn’t choose to.
While LeBron is always looking to get his team the best possible shot, Kyrie is usually looking to get himself the best possible shot. He’s a throwback playground player who would’ve absolutely thrived in the 80s and 90s when isolation basketball was more prevalent.
Now he’s still an elite offensive player, one whose game becomes more valuable in the postseason. At just 25 years old, he could even hit another level with some tweaks to his mindset but his defense, which many mistake for being more about effort than skill, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. This type of imbalance mitigates his overall impact on the only stat that really matters: winning.
Check out this fascinating snippet from ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, a big-time numbers guy:
Last season, Cleveland was outscored by an incredible 8.0 points per 100 possessions in the 568 minutes Irving played and James sat, according to NBA.com…
In games James has missed and Irving has played, Cleveland has gone 3-13 over that span, making it difficult for the Cavaliers to rest James without paying a price in the standings.
There is zero evidence Kyrie can be the offensive engine on a great team and while he may be a younger and more talented player than Dragic overall, how much better would the team actually be? My guess would be a marginal improvement, at best. And this is assuming a one-for-one swap.
While the gorgeous dribbling and knack for difficult shot-making may trick your brain into thinking he’s a special superstar in his prime and among the 10 to 15 best in basketball, he’s just not at that level yet. His defense is the main reason why.
It’s certainly possible the Heat’s coaching, system, and development could make Kyrie Irving a league average defender but he’d have to buy in and before you consider that a definite, this is a player demanding a trade from a team that’s been to three straight NBA Finals to get away from the best hooper in the world.
Within Windhorst’s report it also states Irving felt this way last summer, right after the team won a championship.
Does that strike you as a Heat guy? Does Kyrie seem like the type of player who’s about sacrificing for the good of the team? The guy wanted out fresh off winning a title because he wasn’t the man. His actions and style of play don’t seem to support the notion he’s the Heat’s type. If I’m Riley, I roll with the current roster until another, bigger disgruntled whale surfaces.
Assuming they’d even be able to acquire him for a deal surrounding Dragic and filler, it would mean an Irving-Waiters backcourt—two shoot-first guards who couldn’t do squat earlier in their careers in Cleveland. If Whiteside is the main piece in the deal, that removes the appeal of having an elite rim protector cleaning up Kyrie’s defensive futility.
While Kyrie Irving is a surreal talent who is undoubtedly temping for the Miami Heat, he’s not the whale they’re looking for.