Last night, the Cavaliers and Kyrie Irving reached an agreement to sign the All-Star point guard to a five-year extension worth $90 million. This was the largest amount of money the team could offer the 22-year-old, with Irving now fulfilling the team’s “designated player” extension, allowing more contractual freedom for the team and more money for the player. I am glad that a talented guard like Irving will be staying in Cleveland for an extra half decade, but he is not worth the so-called max because of his five major flaws, detailed below.
1. Bad defense
Even in Mike Brown‘s defense-focused system, Irving looked lost when the other team had the ball. Maybe he realized that if the other team scored, he would get the ball back and not have to waste as much time without it. Probably not. If Irving wants to be a bona fide star in the NBA, he’ll need to be better than his 108 defensive rating, which was not just below average compared to the league, it was below average compared to the rest of his defense deficient Cavaliers teammates, who sat at 107.7 as a team. The top four teams last season, based on record, all ranked in the top 9 in defensive rating, none allowing more than 104.8 points per 100 possessions.
2. Scoring-oriented point guard
It is clear that the days of the extreme pass-first point guard are over as just one player averaged more than 8.8 assists per game last season. That said, plenty of point guards, including Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, and John Wall, knew how to score while still accruing plenty of assists. Kyrie Irving is not of that mindset. When Irving has the ball, he is looking to drive and score first, then to shoot the ball second. Only after these two options have been have been exhausted does Kyrie look to pass, which explains his career assist percentage below 33 percent. Basketball-Reference has figured this out, with some of Irving’s closest comparisons being Ray Allen, Klay Thompson, and Isaiah Thomas, none true point guards. Irving is a talented player, but he’s more of a combo guard than a true point guard.
3. Shooting gets worse and worse
I’m all for a great shooter, but Irving wasn’t even close to great last season. He set career lows in shooting percentage (43%) and three-point shooting percentage (35.8%), but his usage rate was still above 28 percent. The average distance of his field goal attempts was 14.5 feet from the hoop, the farthest it has been in his three professional seasons. Irving’s bricks led to a lower player efficiency rating and effective field goal percentage, two metrics that help determine player value. There are arguments that can be made using Mike Brown and his defense-focused system, but great players are able to plow through adversity and stay great no matter how bad the team around them may be.
4. Injury prone
This one is pretty straightforward, as Irving played in just 11 games at Duke before missing 15 games during his rookie season. In the NBA, Irving has missed 49 of 230 total games, or 21.3 percent. That number doesn’t even include minor injuries that Irving played through. Considering Irving is just 22 years old, this does not bode well as he ages. Yes, there are players like Grant Hill, who played at a high level into his late 30s even though he missed a lot of time in his early 30s, but there are five or six players such as Amar’e Stoudemire, Greg Oden, and Shaun Livingston, guys who couldn’t stay healthy and have become shells of themselves, for every one player who returns to form. My opponents will argue that Irving’s injuries have been “flukey,” but I don’t buy it because he’s missed more than one of every five games in his NBA career.
5. Hasn’t actually won anything
Kyrie Irving has played well, but his teams have been Bad with a capital B. He’s never won more than 33 games in a season, rewarding himself with two extra months off every May and June. He’s never led an offense that has finished better than 19th in the league, and that is supposed to be where he truly shines. Part of the M.O. of great players is that they elevate their teammates to a higher level, allowing for improved team play and team success. Irving hasn’t made his teammates better and he hasn’t been a winner in the NBA.
I am glad that Kyrie Irving is staying in Cleveland for five extra seasons. He is a talented, albeit flawed, player who makes the Cavs somewhat relevant. That said, these five major flaws are why Uncle Drew’s new contract scares me. Lucky for Irving, he’s got five extra seasons to prove me wrong. I wish him the best of luck.