With LeBron resting, Irving scored 33 points to lead the Cavaliers to 99-98 win over the Mavericks yesterday.
But Irving took 28 shots and had only one assist in 39 minutes.
After the game, a few players were puzzled to how their point guard managed to register one assist while playing 39 minutes. They were frustrated, but the win and Irving’s huge defensive play lessened the anger.
The notion within the locker room is that the situation is tolerable, because it isn’t permanent. If the Cavaliers were dealt the misfortune of playing without James for an extended period, this locker room would be boiling over.
Players are growing tired of Irving’s inability to not only register a proper amount of assists at the lead guard position, but also to just move the ball.
First, here’s how Irving ranks among the NBA’s 30 starting point guards in a few key stats:
- Assists per game: 25th (4.5)
- Assists per 36 minutes: 24th (5.2)
- Potential assists per 36 minutes: 24th (12.8)
- Potential assists per game: 25th (10.9)
- Passes per 36 minutes: 28th (58.3)
- Passes per game: 26th (49.9)
- Percentage of touches ending in pass: 24th (68.5%)
- Seconds per touch: 10th (4.7)
- Dribbles per touch: 12th (4.7)
Irving clearly hasn’t shown himself to be the most willing passer – and that’s not his game. His specialty is scoring, which is why Cleveland’s offense functions best when it runs through LeBron. Let LeBron control the ball and distribute, and Irving can be lethal when he gets the ball with the defense tilted toward LeBron.
But with LeBron in street clothes, festering unhappiness about Irving bubbled to the surface. Irving’s teammates didn’t suddenly decide Irving doesn’t pass enough. They clearly had prior concerns that came to the forefront without LeBron playing.
These complaints aren’t entirely fair, though. Though he ranks near the bottom of starting point guards in key passing stats, Irving is not at the bottom. And because he plays with LeBron, Irving gets the ball less than other point guards. And, again, his skill set is conducive more to scoring than passing.
I believe confirmation bias somewhat explains his teammates’ feelings. They remember possessions where Irving dominates the ball before forcing a shot. Yes, he has too many of those. But so do other players who don’t receive this level at scrutiny.
Is something else at play? If there’s a rift between Irving and LeBron, is everyone just looking for reasons to get in line behind LeBron?