ATLANTA: Twenty thoughts, one for each point scored by Andrew Bynum and 20 more than Kyrie Irving scored in another bad 108-89 loss to the Hawks...
1. The whispers have been growing louder around the NBA for weeks and now Friday’s scoreless performance will get everyone's attention. With each lousy shooting performance, more and more people want to know: What has happened to Kyrie Irving?
2. I wish I knew. I’m sure Irving wishes he knew, too. Yes, teams are defending him differently and appear to be running more double teams at him. Yes, he’s getting more resistance at the basket this year. Whereas the first two years he seemed to be able to attack at will, this year there are bigs waiting for him at the rim.
3. But it’s more than that. Irving is missing wide open shots. He had a nifty crossover tonight that left him with an easy, short jumper and he clanked it. He’s missing 3-pointers, he’s missing free throws, he’s missing layups. He’s missing from everywhere. No matter how much he insists it’s not weighing on him, I have to believe it is.
4. I asked him tonight after the cameras and recorders were put away if his arm is still bothering him, but he said no. Irving fell on his right arm during the second game of the season at Charlotte and complained of numbness. He said afterward it affected his shot and he was taken for x-rays, but they revealed nothing and Irving was back for the next game. Irving is sensitive to his injury history, and I thought perhaps he is playing through some sort of discomfort in the arm to keep from admitting he’s hurt again. But he said no, so we move on.
5. Irving’s performance is baffling not only fans and his teammates, but other executives around the league. Players in the locker room have told me on multiple occasions he’s missing shots he never missed before. “He’s pouting,” was the explanation I’ve heard recently from two league executives.
6. This isn’t to lay all the blame for this season’s terrible 6-13 start on Irving, but this was supposed to be the season he elevated into the league’s elite circles. The third year is often the critical year when many superstars – and their teams – take an enormous step forward. Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and LeBron James all made the playoffs for the first time during during their third seasons. All three of their teams won at least 50 games with them in that third season, too. The Thunder jumped from 23 wins to 50, the Cavs climbed from 42 to 50 and the Hornets went from 39 to 56 wins in those third seasons. The Cavs, in Irving’s third year, are on pace to win 26 games – two more than last season.
7. I wrote throughout the spring and summer this would be the season that dictated who Irving would become: Chris Paul or Brandon Jennings. So far, unfortunately, he has been much more Jennings than Paul.
8. Irving was probably the team’s best jump shooter when this season began. It was one of the reasons Brown wanted to pair him with Jarrett Jack and let Jack handle the ball. The thinking was Irving would save some energy by not having to initiate all the time, plus the Cavs could bring him off screens and take advantage of his jump shooting, something that he never got to do during his first two seasons.
9. Only one problem: Irving entered Friday shooting 31.5 percent in catch and shoot situations. By comparison, John Wall entered the night at 43 percent on catch and shoot jumpers. Paul George was at 49 percent, Klay Thompson was at 47 percent, Dion Waiters was at 46 percent. Heck, even Earl Clark was at 46 percent. Irving’s percentage puts him in the unwanted company of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who is making 31.4 percent in catch and shoot situations even with his broke jumper. In fairness, Chris Paul (32 percent) and Tony Parker (30.4 percent) are in Irving’s catch and shoot neighborhood, but that isn’t really the strength of either of their games. Paul is also converting 55.3 percent on drives to the basket and Parker is finishing 61.7 percent of his drives. Irving is only shooting 39.3 percent on drives.
10. “I’m not shooting the best this year, but I’m getting the shots that I want and that’s all you can ask for,” Irving said Friday night. “You can look back and try to fix things, but at the end of the day I play off instincts. Sometimes I’m out there thinking too much, but you’ve just got to play basketball. The confidence level has to remain the same for myself and my teammates.”
11. Brown seems unfazed by Irving’s problems, too. Of course, it wouldn’t be prudent for him to start killing Irving in the media or doubting his ability, so what else is he supposed to say?
12. “I’m not worried about his shot,” Brown said Friday. “It’s fine. He’s going to make enough shots, he’s going to score enough points for us to win games.”
13. On the brighter side, here comes Andrew Bynum. He’s averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds in his last three games while shooting 53 percent. He has reached his season-high of 20 points in two of the last three games, including Friday.
14. All of this is further proof the Cavs need to play inside-out when Bynum is on the floor. He only got three shots during his eight minutes in the first quarter – and made all of them. C.J. Miles, conversely, was 0 for 5 in his eight minutes in the first quarter and continues to flounder. Miles finished the night 0 for 5 shooting and is now shooting .258 (8 of 31) since entering the starting lineup. He’s also 4 of 13 on 3s during that same time.
15. He made one 3-pointer Friday and it was big, only because it prevented him from also going scoreless. As it was, Alonzo Gee and Irving became the first pair of Cavs starters to go scoreless in a game (minimum 10 minutes played each) since Jan. 25, 2008 when Ira Newble (12 minutes) and Drew Gooden (20 minutes) both went scoreless in a game against the Suns. (Elias)
16. Surprisingly, also according to Elias, it has only been a week since an NBA team had two starters go scoreless in a game. Andray Blatche (10 minutes) and Shaun Livingston (12 minutes) did it last week in the Brooklyn Nets’ loss to the Rockets, giving the Cavs yet another parallel to the woeful Nets.
17. Both the Cavs and Nets have been disappointments this season, both have had two starters go scoreless in a game and both nearly have lost two games by at least 30 points. The Nets are the only NBA team to suffer that fate thus far, but the Cavs narrowly escaped. They lost by 30 at the Spurs and lost by 29 at Minnesota.
18. Dion Waiters had a big night offensively with a season-high 30 points. This was the perfect game for a guy like Waiters to get his numbers because the Hawks had a big lead and no one else on the Cavs could do much of anything, so the ball always went to Waiters. To his credit, he delivered. He fell three points shy of his career high.
19. It’s the same refrain right now for the Cavs. They started to put some things together and looked good with a pair of home victories, but it all fell apart on the road. The Cavs are now 1-10 on the road, tied with the Utah Jazz for worst road record in the league. The Cavs beat the Jazz to 10 road losses by a couple of hours.
20. Final thought of the final thoughts: The Cavs have two No. 1 overall picks on their roster, each drafted within the last three years. They combined to go scoreless Friday night on 12 missed shots. Ouch.