Breaking Down Spencer Hawes' Positive Effect on Kyrie Irving

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Breaking Down Spencer Hawes' Positive Effect on Kyrie Irving
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

The Cleveland Cavaliers' new GM David Griffin brought Spencer Hawes to town to get his team into the playoffs.

Why else would he sacrifice two second-round picks for an unrestricted free agent-to-be?

Amid heavy speculation that any Cavalier not named Kyrie was potential trade bait, Griffin kept the core in tact. Riding a six-game winning streak, he opted instead to add starting-caliber insurance for injured center Anderson Varejao.

Few would argue that a guy like Hawes elevates a team from mediocrity to playoff quality—his career averages are just 9.5 points and 6.4 rebounds, after all. Thanks to a woeful conference this year, Cleveland doesn't actually need to be all that far above mediocre to make its first postseason appearance since LeBron James flew South.

All has not gone entirely according to plan since Hawes' first game in wine and gold on February 21. The Cavs are just 2-4 since his arrival. And what began as a three-game deficit behind the Charlotte Bobcats has grown ever so slightly as they now trail the Atlanta Hawks by 3.5 games with 21 left to play.

But Cleveland is an even 2-2 since coach Mike Brown moved Hawes into the starting lineup, living up to every part of the distance-shooting reputation he brought from Philadelphia.

Perhaps the most crucial development is his ability to mesh with Kyrie Irving and slightly improve the franchise cornerstone's play in the process.

More important than those numbers—all career bests besides blockshis .410 shooting percentage from behind the arc immediately increased Cleveland's spacing (and made him the team's most accurate deep threat). Hawes has hit half of his 24 three-point attempts and adds a dimension to the pick-and-roll that Cleveland didn't have previously.

And Irving has clearly taken a liking to Hawes. Thirteen of his 47 assists (27.6 percent) have gone to Hawes baskets. In Cleveland's last six games, Irving has averaged 22.8 points and 7.8 assists and had nearly nine assists per game in Hawes' first five as a Cavalier.

Per Basketball-Reference.com, Irving has a better plus/minus (+17) in six games with Hawes than any other two-man combination this season aside from C.J. Miles (+70).

Prior to Hawes' arrival, the Cleveland offense had myriad problems. Jared Dubin detailed on Bleacher Report why Cleveland has the 24th-ranked offensive efficiency in the NBA:

The main problem here is two-fold: (a) Cleveland takes too many shots from the dead zones of the court—the back half of the paint and the mid-range area; and (b) Cleveland simply does not convert its shots from the easiest area on the court—the restricted area.  

Dubin points out that Cleveland owns the league's second-worst effective field goal percentage, a credit to its slow pace of play (20th in the NBA) and poor shot creation. He notes that only Memphis takes a larger percent of its shots from the back half of the paint (outside the restricted zone) and mid-range (between the paint and three-point line) combined.

Hawes also provides much-needed catch-and-shoot prowess for a team that has less assists per game (20.4) than all but five teams and the fourth-worst assist ratio (15.7).

This is where Hawes' skills come into play.

The GIFs below demonstrate Hawes' ability to stretch defenses.

Youtube

In the first one, Irving and Hawes run a pick at the top of the key against the Utah Jazz. Irving immediately drives while Hawes drops back to the three-point line. Both Jazz defenders commit to Irving who kicks to Hawes. Marvin Williams overcommits his attempt to recover and Hawes throws a simple shot fake to get Williams in the air. Hawes steps in for a comfortable jumper.

Youtube

Here, Irving and Hawes begin a pick-and-roll, and Hawes again hangs back by the top of the arc. This time Hawes' defender Patrick Patterson doesn't respect Hawes' range as he recovers from Irving's potential drive, so he drops a three in Patterson's face.

Youtube

Later in the same game, Irving and Hawes run the same pick at the top of the key. Hawes doesn't head straight for the three-point line but his defender, Amir Johnson, has to keep an eye out for him. Irving has plenty of space and just enough time to take Kyle Lowry, a solid one-on-one defender, off the dribble to the hoop for an uncontested layup.

This last bit is particularly important to help solve another issue Dubin brought to light—Irving and Dion Waiters have been two of the worst scoring guards in the lane:

Among the 41 players averaging at least 5.0 drives per game, Irving's 44.5 field-goal percentage ranks 30th, while Waiters' 35.2 field-goal percentage ranks 41st. Waiters has been so bad at finishing near the basket that he actually entered Monday's play with the fifth-lowest restricted-area field-goal percentage in the entire league (for players who had attempted at least 100 shots in the restricted area).

More uncontested drives means more easily converted layups means more points and better field-goal percentages.

The spacing has a ripple effect that goes beyond the guards as well:

Don't expect Hawes to orchestrate a new brand of basketball in Cleveland, but he should make the Cavaliers competitive with Atlanta, Charlotte and others for the right to a one-and-done series with Indiana or Miami.

All stats courtesy of ESPN.com and NBA.com

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