Can Kyrie Irving Really Turn the Cleveland Cavaliers into a Contender?

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Can Kyrie Irving Really Turn the Cleveland Cavaliers into a Contender?
Ned Dishman/Getty Images

“Playoffs are the goal. I’m going to do everything in my power and my teammates are going to do everything in their power to make the playoffs this year.”

These were the words of Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving to Bob Finnan of The News-Herald before the 2013-14 season tipped off.

Needless to say, things aren't exactly going to plan.

Yes, yes, it's still very early in a long 82-game season, but the Cavaliers should already have plenty to worry about.

Off to a 3-6 start to the season, Irving's goal certainly isn't out of reach, but there's definitely a lot of work to be done.

Here's how Irving, and the Cavs, can get back into contention.

 

Show a Little Effort

This shouldn't even be an issue at the professional level.

However, throw away the advanced statistics and shot charts for a second and watch the body language of some of the Cavaliers players in some of the team's games so far.

A good indication of team effort came against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 13th. After giving up 38 points in the first quarter, it was expected that Cleveland would turn up the defensive effort in the second. However, they did not.

The Cavs then allowed 32 more points in the next quarter to the Kevin Martin-less Wolves and had given up a total of 70 points by halftime.

Surely, Cleveland made some key changes at halftime that would help them mask that ugly first half total in the final score, right?

Nope.

Mike Brown's halftime speech must not have worked, because the Wolves clobbered the Cavs for another 38 points in the third quarter. By the end of the third, Minnesota had already topped their 106.3 scoring average for the season with their 108 points.

Where was the adjustment? Where was the effort? Where was the pride?

Playoff teams have bad quarters and bad halves, but they also make in-game and halftime adjustments to help correct those mistakes.

Cleveland has to show a more consistent effort on both ends of the floor, and it starts with Kyrie Irving.  Even though he's just 21, Irving needs to take a leadership roll on this team and set the tone with his effort, each and every game.

 

Play Better on the Road

You may have noticed a theme to the early Cavaliers' season: the Cavs seem to prefer the friendly confines of the Quicken Loans Arena, posting a 3-0 start to the season at home; on the road, it's been a different story.

Cleveland has begun the season 0-6 on the road, and they are averaging just 84.4 points in those contests, compared to 106 points at home.

Irving's play has definitely impacted these records. At home, Irving is putting up 23 points, 6.7 rebounds and 9.0 assists on 40.6 shooting from the field; on the road, those numbers deflate to 17.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists on 35.6 percent shooting.

While it may be unfair to ask Irving to maintain those ridiculous home numbers on an every-day basis, the Cavs need him to be better when they're away. 

 

Stop Shooting the Long Two's

When coaching basketball, especially to young players, it's important to stress the "sweet spots" on the court.

Open three-pointer? Take it.

Ten-foot jumper? Knock it down.

A step inside the three-point line? Come have a seat on the bench.

Coaches know that the long two-pointer is the worst possible shot one can attempt in basketball. Either take a step back, or two steps forward, but do not shoot it from a step inside the arc. 

Somebody needs to tell that to the Cavaliers.

Remarkably, the Cavs have attempted nearly the same amount of long two-pointers as they have three-pointers (176 to 175) to begin the season. On those long two-pointers, or anywhere from 18-24 feet out, Cleveland is shooting just 37.5 percent, per NBA.com/stats.

NBA.com/stats
The Cavaliers shot chart in the early going of 2013-14.

From three-point range, the team's numbers are very similar, coming in at 34.9 percent.

While this percentage is slightly lower, one has to take into account the potential outcome. If the Cavaliers would shoot 100 of those long two-pointers at the same 37.5 percent, they would come away with 75 points. However, if Cleveland shoots 100 three-pointers at 34.9 percent, that would put them on pace for 104.7 points.

Given the Cavs' shaky defense at times this season, those extra points could come in handy.

Irving and the rest of the Cavaliers have to work on taking smarter and higher-percentage shots in order to improve their 29th ranked offensive efficiency, per Hollinger Team Statistics on ESPN.com

 

Feed the AB's, see?

Asking a player who began his professional career shooting at a 4.8-percent clip may not sound like the key to winning, but it's exactly what Cleveland should do.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Anthony Bennett—the player being referred to aboveand Andrew Bynum need to be more involved.

Bynum was inserted into the starting lineup on Nov. 1 against the Chicago Bulls, and he responded with season highs of 11 points, six rebounds and two assists in 21 minutes. The big man went to work on the low block and simply abused Joakim Noah with his post moves. He also recorded two blocks, giving him eight total in just six short games.

That's not bad for someone who didn't play a minute last season.

Mixing Bynum in with the starters will give Irving a true low-post scorer to get the ball to, something he hasn't ever had throughout his time in Cleveland. It's his responsibility to see that Bynum is getting his touches, which will in turn create double teams, freeing up outside shooters.

When it comes to Bennett, things get trickier.

Do the Cavs send him to Canton in order to develop with the Charge for a little while and get his conditioning and confidence back up in the D-League?

Nah, it may be just a little too much for a No. 1 overall pick to handle a demotion like that.

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Instead, the second unit needs to get him the ball. Yes, Bennett started the season shooting 1-for-21, but who's counting?

Against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night, Bennett totaled six points and five rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench. While his 3-for-11 shooting isn't anything to get excited about, it does mark the first time in eight games that Bennett has made more than a single field goal.

Bennett was built for the pick and roll. He's big enough to shoot over players in a pick-and-pop scenarios, but he also possesses the athleticism to drive inside and dunk over an unsuspecting center.

Irving or Jarrett Jack, whomever is running the point with Bennett in the game, needs to get him in back into a rhythm. It's shockingly obvious how bad Bennett is pressing right now instead of letting the game come to him.

Hopefully, Irving and the rest of the Cavaliers can make these needed adjustments and once again start talking playoffs.

 

GS

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