Cleveland Sports Insiders

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The struggles of Kyrie Irving

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Kyrie Irving (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Kyrie Irving has struggled a bit to start off the 2013-2014 season.

If you don’t give it much thought, there are a lot of superficial reasons can pop into your head. Some of those reasons might not be so superficial.

Is it because the Cavaliers are running a new offense under the defensive-minded Mike Brown?

Is it because Kyrie is pushing himself to take the next step in a season in which many believe, including himself, that he will break out?

Is it because the Cavaliers seem to be focused on getting the ball to their big men, with guys like Anderson Varejao inexcusably getting looks from 10-15 feet?

There’s likely some truth to all of the above, as well as some other incendiary issues playing a part into the Cleveland Cavaliers best players’ early season “struggles.”

At the end of the day, Kyrie’s shooting 34% from the field. He seems to take bad jump shots, and often drives into double coverage underneath while forcing up shots inside that are getting blocked, or leaving him in no-man’s land. He also appears to be dribbling the ball way too much. He can, at times, put on a show with the ball reminiscent of the Harlem Globetrotters Curly Neal, that often doesn’t go for much when your playing an NBA team, and not the Washington Generals.

The offensive stats get worse.

He’s shooting 13% from the three-point line, and to make matters even worse, he’s shooting only 61% from the foul line, after averaging 86% over his first two seasons.

Let’s face facts though.

The Cavs are three games into the 2013-2014 season, so you really can’t look too much into his early season struggles…yet.

In game two, Irving fell on his elbow, stating that he had numbness for a remainder of the third quarter after it happened. The issues turned out to be minor, with all x-rays coming back negative, but it likely effected his shot late in that game (0-3 in the fourth quarter), and forced the Cavs to look elsewhere for a key shot down the stretch.

Against the Pacers, Irving again struggled, going 6-17, with five assists and three turnovers, scoring only 15 points. Of course, the Indiana Pacers just might be the best defensive team in the NBA.  With Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West clogging the underneath as one of the best front lines in the NBA, it nullified Kyrie’s ability to drive inside for easy layups.

George Hill, the Pacers starting point guard, didn’t even play. Imagine how good the Pacers will be both offensively and defensively when that happens.

But that’s just it, superstars tend to overcome obstacles, but can one guy overcome perhaps the best defensive team in the NBA? Even LeBron ran into some issues with the Pacers in the 2012-13 playoffs. Okay, maybe it wasn’t LeBron that struggled, but the Heat needed seven games, and were held to under 80 in one of the games.

Than can play D.

Perhaps the expectations have been far too high on “Uncle Drew,” as there has been much scuttlebutt made about the Cavs unquestioned leaders turning the corner this year into superstardom.

But, even with the pressure, there’s no reason to think that Irving isn’t still on the verge of the next step.

There are a few things to take into account with regards to the Cavaliers when pondering Kyrie’s early season struggles.

Obviously, there is a brand new-ish system in place for the returning players from Byron Scott‘s final season in Cleveland. Mike Brown’s ploddish offenses have always been criticized and critiqued since he became a head coach with the Cavaliers back in 2005. Sometimes the catcalls for the offense have been justified, and sometimes they have been ridiculous, but taking everything to account, it’s the first three basketball games.

Let’s face facts.

We all know that Brown runs a defense-first system, but it’s far too early to jump down anyone’s throat about offensive struggles.

Past the obvious new offensive look with a new coach, you also have to take into account the new look Cavaliers. Anthony Bynum, Earl Clark, Jarrett Jack, Anthony Bennett, Henry Sims, Matthew Dellavedova and Sergey Karasev are all new additions to this team.

On top of the new additions, Anderson Varejao hasn’t played in over 31 games in each of the past three seasons, and there’s an obvious youth-fullness to consider with several guys on this team, including Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Kyrie as well.

That’s certainly not an excuse, but when you take into account that Thompson is 22, Irving and Waiters are both 21, Tyler Zeller is 23, Earl Clark is 25, Alonzo Gee and C.J. Miles are 26, and Anthony Bennett is 20, you have a team that’s going to have some growing pains.

Especially when you combine the youthful players, with the new additions, with the returning head coach.

Irving certainly hasn’t been helped by several of his teammates.

Dion Waiters has had moments of looking solid, and I would argue, moments of looking more comfortable in the offense. Of course, he only played a little over 14 minutes in the game against Charlotte. It’s hard to pinpoint what he was doing wrong that night (okay, he struggled getting the ball in the hoop), but you do have to question benching your supposed starter even though Miles had the hotter hand.

Bennett still hasn’t made a shot, and while you can argue that he’s out of shape, and that he gets tired and that he’s a rookie, you can counterbalance that by the simple fact that he’s the #1 pick. He does have a leash with regards to his struggles, but it should be a short one. I get that he’s out of shape because of the injury, but have a hard time with HOW out of shape he was.

Then there is Earl Clark. I know there was speculation that he was never utilized the right way with the Los Angeles Lakers last year, or the Orlando Magic the year before, or the Phoenix Suns the year before that. He even signed a deal with the Zhejiang Lions, although he never played a game for them.

Personally, I totally understand why he’s played for three teams in three seasons. He’s really not very good. If you think Kyrie dribbles too much (and he is good at it), watch Clark a bit. It’s tiring watching him wander around with the ball until he gets pinned at the baseline by two defenders. He’s not a starter.

Even the Tristan Thompson, who is another early season “breakout” performer was shut down by the Pacers, applying more pressure onto Irving’s shoulders.

Again, I’m not trying to give Kyrie Irving excuses early in the season, or perhaps I am a bit.

Perhaps he’s forcing the issue too much.

Perhaps he feels that he has to carry this team offensively until they find their rhythm.

The irony?

He’s often the reason the Cavs haven’t found their rhythm.

Of course, it’s only three games in the season. This is a kid who is trying to improve defensively, and understand what I’m saying here: he’s trying to be dominant. He said it himself this offseason when he said that “he really needed to go out there and try to maximize the effort on the defensive end.”

He’s not there yet, because it’s only three games into the season.

He has also struggled in the past with conditioning a bit. Some of that can be attributed to injury issues, and some of that can be attributed to a lack of attention to defense. He’s gained muscle mass this year, and he worked hard all offseason so that he can be effective throughout the entire game. The Cavs even signed Jarrett Jack, who can provide Irving breathers both on the bench, and as a two-guard at times.

He’s not there yet, because it’s only three games into the season.

What really may be weighing on Irving though, this early in the season, is his brand new role as the leader of this team. What I’ve noticed since the end of last year is that Irving has taken on an entirely different mentality when answering questions.

He attacked this head on during the offseason.

“Taking responsibility for the team, taking control of it. Taking this team head-on. I kind of shied away from that at time, but now I am ready to take this team full-on and be the leader. Like I said, I had a lot of growing up to do.”

He talks about how HE has to work harder on the defensive end. How HE has to learn how to be a more efficient player, so he can lead this team.

He’s not there yet, because it’s only three games into the season.

Of course, the season doesn’t ever stop, not even for a potential superstar who has asked for the microscope to be put upon him in his third year in the NBA. Can he be healthier. Can he be more efficient? Can he be a better defender?

Can he take the next step?

So far he hasn’t…

…but it’s only the third game of the season.

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