Irving's shooting percentages dropped to career lows, while his scoring and assist numbers were actually lower (per 36 minutes) than that of his rookie season.
Conditioning wasn't a problem, as Irving came into training camp noticeably bigger and stronger. He played in a career-best 71 games, averaging a healthy 35.2 minutes a night.
So what happened?
Unfortunately, the rehiring of Mike Brown put a halt to the development of many young players. Tristan Thompson also failed to take the next step, and it wasn't until Irving missed games late in the season that Dion Waiters began to show real growth.
They key to getting Irving back on his superstar track will be the Cavaliers' next head coach and the offensive knowledge the candidate can bestow upon his All-Star guard.
While a few former players and well-respected offensive minds like Tyronn Lue, Alvin Gentry and Lionel Hollins have interviewed for the Cavs coaching vacancy, only one person can truly maximize Irving's game in Cleveland.
That man is Mark Price.
It's tough to tell if the Cavaliers ever really listened to or respected Brown as a head coach.
Judging by the lack of effort often produced, it's hard to argue that they did.
Some players even went out of their way to criticize Brown and his extensive list of assistants, via Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:
Players have privately complained that Brown’s coaching staff, with at least seven assistants, is too big. An assistant coach will tell a player one thing, then Brown will come back and yell at that player because he wants it done another way. 'We’re getting too many mixed messages,' one player said. 'This isn’t very much fun. We were losing last year with Byron, but at least we were having fun.'
With Price, the Cavaliers would have a leader who not only played in the league, but was a four-time All-Star and member of the All-NBA team. He's also Cleveland's all-time leader in assists, free-throw percentage and three-pointers made. Price's No. 25 is retired by the team.
Given his level of individual and team success, Price is one of the most popular players in franchise history. He led the Cavs to seven playoff appearances, including a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1991-92. Many believe those Cavalier squads were championship-worthy but had the unfortunate luck of running into Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls five times.
For Irving and the current group of young Cavs, Price would be someone they could easily respect due to his success in the NBA, most notably with Cleveland.
As previously mentioned, Irving saw a dive in his shooting percentages this past season.
Irving's field-goal percentage came in at 46.9 percent his rookie year and 45.2 percent in 2012-13 before dropping to 43.0 percent this past season.
His three-point shooting has also become a concern. While Irving shot a strong 39.9 percent his rookie season, that number eventually fell from 39.1 percent to 35.8 percent in 2013-14.
Enter Price, who's considered an expert in teaching young players proper shot mechanics. Price himself is second all-time in the NBA in free-throw shooting at 90.3 percent, trailing only Steve Nash (90.4). Price also connected on 40.2 percent of his career three-pointers and holds the NBA's 11th-best shooting season in history with a 48.6 percent mark in 1987-88.
In his coaching career, Price has served as a shooting coach with the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies. This past season, Price worked as an assistant coach with the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets), specifically with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
While MKG's shot is still very much a work in progress, he and the rest of the Bobcats showed significant improvement under Price. Kidd-Gilchrist improved his field-goal percentage every month from December through April, shooting a whopping 57.1 percent over the last month. His overall field-goal percentage rose to 47.3 percent, up from 45.8 percent his rookie year.
It's worth noting that Kidd-Gilchrist is a former high school teammate of Irving, and would likely praise Price for the work he's done to improve his game.
Irving's jumper needs far less work than Kidd-Gilchrist's, but it could still use Price's guidance.
With enough work together, we could see Irving's shooting numbers not only return to their previous marks but also surpass them.
Master of the Pick-and-Roll
One of the biggest parts of Irving's game is his work in the pick-and-roll.
Irving is extremely quick with one of the best handles in the league. Physically, he has all the tools to become one of the best pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop players in the NBA.
While Brown's offensive strategy was to give Irving the ball in isolation situations and hope for the best, Price could use his own personal experience to help enhance Kyrie's pick-and-roll game.
Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo Sports had this to say about Price back in December:
Price, more than Isiah, and more than Magic, ushered in the current era of NBA point guarddom: the ability to devastate in a screen and roll situation, split the two defenders if necessary, make the perfect pass, or nail the trey. 20 years ago, point guards didn't start the play from behind the three-point line. They didn't have the range. Price was the first.
Not only was Price so good at splitting double-teams, but he would quickly recognize and find the open man. While Price wasn't nearly the athlete Irving is, he was sneaky quick and could finish at the rim. His passing was leaps and bounds above where Irving's currently is, as Price had seven seasons where he averaged seven or more assists per game. His career average of 8.1 assists per 36 minutes is well above Irving's 6.2.
Irving is already a very good pick-and-roll player.
Price would make him a great one.
Work Ethic and Leadership
While Price was never a big vocal guy, it was his dedication to the game that really stood out.
“He had a different commitment level than the rest of us,” said Jason Gilbow, a friend of Price, to Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. “Mark would be at home at 9 o’clock Friday night, so he could be up early the next morning shooting. He was focused as a young man.”
In the same story, Price's brother, Brent, shed some light about Mark's desire to work with young players, another reason he would be a great fit leading Irving and the Cavs:
Mark loves being around the game, loves teaching the game to young players, really enjoys being back in it. He’s with a coaching staff he respects. It’s something he’s had a desire to do for quite some time. If you pressed him hard enough, there’s a deep desire to be a head coach.
Price not only put up big stats like Irving has been doing, but he backed it up by leading his team to wins. During Price's nine years in Cleveland, the team went 406-332, an average of 45 wins per season. In his first three years, Irving's highest win total with the Cavs is 33.
Price knew when to score himself and when to defer to teammates. He developed strong relationships with players like Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance, John "Hot Rod" Williams, Craig Ehlo and Steve Kerr.
While those Cavalier teams in the late '80s and early '90s had plenty of star power, Price was the unquestioned leader and glue that held the team together, traits that Irving could learn to develop.
Irving may have taken a step back last season under Brown, but would take two giant leaps forward if coached by Price.
The Cavaliers would be wise to let the greatest floor general in team history serve as coach and mentor to Irving, who could one day even surpass him.
All stats and records provided by Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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