Irving is averaging 21.5 points, 6.2 assists and 1.3 steals per game, a slight improvement from his overall career averages. His incredible crossover has been subject to astonishing highlight reels and his "Uncle Drew" commercial campaign has taken the basketball world by storm.
The 21-year-old point guard has all the makings of an NBA superstar, but the 2014 All-Star starter is not the most valuable player on the Cavs this season.
Instead, the MVP title belongs to another 2011 first-round NBA draft selection: Tristan Thompson.
What Makes an MVP?
For the purpose of this discussion, an MVP is not necessarily the best player on the roster; it is not always the player who boasts the best individual statistics and it is certainly not always the team's perceived bona fide superstar.
An MVP is just what it means: It is the team's most valuable player.
The most valuable players in the NBA are two-way players (think LeBron James and Kevin Durant) who compete on both ends of the floor. They are the players whose most significant impact is not always in the points or rebounds column, but in the wins column. Finally, the most valuable players in the league are those who are durable enough to endure the grind of an 82-game season without missing time to nagging injuries or fatigue.
Below is a quantitative calculation that will be qualified in the paragraphs below to crown the most appropriate MVP for the Cleveland Cavaliers:
MVP = (Net PER) x (Team Winning % w/ Player on Floor) x (Total % of Minutes Played)
This formula is certainly not law, as defensive consistency and durability may not mean as much to some people. This is simply one way to do it. Whether you agree or disagree, please feel free to use the comments section below to further explore this conversation.
The Case for Thompson
Many people thought Chris Grant reached a little bit with his selection of Thompson at No. 4 overall in the 2011 draft, but the 22-year-old former Texas Longhorn has been a steady addition the Cavaliers frontline.
Thompson is the lone player on the Cavaliers roster who has appeared in every game for the last two seasons. Through 45 games this season, Thompson is posting a near double-double with career bests in points (12.2) and rebounds (9.7) per game. Only nine players in the league average a double-double, and at his current pace Thompson will soon join the short list. His 22 double-doubles entering Thursday’s game in New York are second-most in the Eastern Conference this season. He has nine double-doubles in the last 12 games, and 12 in his last 16 games.
As Mike Brown told Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal: "He’s got a nose for the ball. When you have that type of feel, you can’t really teach that. Guys have that knack, that feel. They develop it when they’re younger. He’s got some tenacity to him."
With 167 total offensive rebounds, Thompson currently ranks fifth in the NBA after finishing behind only Zach Randolph last season.
When Thompson is on the floor, 82games.com’s floor-time statistics indicate that the Cavaliers are an even 21-21. While playing power forward, Thompson’s most natural position, he is outscored by 0.7 points—largely due to his limited touches—but rebounds the ball at an exceptional clip (14.0 rebounds per 48 minutes).
There is a lot to be said about durability. After playing in all 82 games for the Cavaliers last season, Thompson has yet to miss a game for the Wine and Gold during the 2013-14 campaign despite playing a high-energy style of basketball.
The Knock Against Irving
The Cavs selected Irving in 2011, essentially replacing LeBron James, after his infamous “decision,” as a natural point guard with the right mix of scoring punch and passing finesse. He was a game-changer, a no-brainer with the No. 1 overall selection.
He was a potential superstar.
Now more than two years into his NBA career, Irving has shown no legitimate signs of superstardom. That is, he has shown no real signs of making those around him better the way James once did for the Cavaliers, and has compiled a disastrous record of 61-131 since being drafted.
Yes, Irving is among the top point guards in the NBA. That much is undeniable. But similar to Carmelo Anthony, Irving has shown no real sign of being capable of turning a franchise around.
First and foremost, Irving has proven to be fragile throughout his first two years in the league—and dating back to his one season at Duke. He has not played more than 59 games in a season, though he is on pace to eclipse that mark in 2014.
Let’s face it: If the Cavaliers cannot compete in an Eastern Conference that currently boasts three sub-.500 teams in the current playoff picture, they may not be capable of ever winning again. At least, not if even defensive guru Mike Brown can't get Irving to meaningfully contribute on the defensive end.
Without Irving on the floor, the Cavaliers have allowed 103.7 points per 100 possessions, nearly seven points better than when Irving is off the floor.
As Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report mentions: "Now, on/off splits can be skewed by the other players on the floor. But with players like C.J. Miles and Anderson Varejao, both of whom share the starting lineup with Irving, the Cavs get worse when those two leave the floor."
Opponents are posting 0.90 points per possession in one-on-one matchups with Irving this season, nearly the same amount he has notched on the other end (0.93). According to 82games.com, Irving is outperformed in nearly every statistical category—aside from points scored—by his opponent counterpart. Overall, Irving posts a mere 1.3 PER in net production.
Most telling, according to 82games.com, Irving’s floor-time statistics indicate that the Cavaliers are a mere 16-24 with him on the floor.
Despite his All-Star selection, Irving has been ripped in recent weeks by opposing general managers who say Irving is “pouting,” as reported by Lloyd. Due in large part to his perceived negative attitude and immaturity, 82games.com has the Cavaliers allowing opposing point guards to post a player efficiency rating of 17.9—the highest mark of any opposing position.
Perhaps the presence of veteran swingman Luol Deng will have a positive impact on Irving’s willingness to compete on the defensive end, but for now Irving is simply one of the most unproductive superstars in the NBA.
|Player||Net PER (per 48 minutes)||Total Winning % with Player on the Floor||Total % of Minutes Played||MVP Points|
Stats courtesy of 82games.com
Make no mistake about it: Irving is the most talented player on the Cavaliers.
But that is not the argument here.
Who is the Cavaliers MVP this season?
While he is one of the best offensive point guards in the NBA today and is certainly deserving of his first All-Star start, his apparent lack of interest on the defensive end of the floor is indicated by some alarming statistics.
Thompson, however, is extremely well-rounded and routinely outperforms opponents at his most natural power forward position. The energy he brings to the floor makes the players around him better, and his durability makes him an incredible asset to the franchise.
As another former Longhorn, Kevin Durant, is earning the midseason NBA MVP, Tristan Thompson is the Cleveland Cavaliers' most valuable player.