Why Is Cleveland Cavaliers' Big 3 Still Not Working?

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterApril 8, 2016

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 28: Kevin Love #0 Kyrie Irving #2 and LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the Cleveland Cavaliers media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 28, 2015 in Independence, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Cleveland Cavaliers' Big Three experiment has yielded some successful results, but the Cavs may still have to win a championship as early as this summer to keep LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving together.

This team reached the NBA Finals in its first year together, despite losing Love in the playoff's opening round and later Irving in Game 1 of the championship. Now a No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, Cleveland is the heavy favorite to once again cruise to the Finals.

Of course, this isn't nearly good enough for Cavaliers fans, players or executives. James, for one, isn't interested in conference championship banners anymore after raising six in his first 12 seasons. 

This will only happen if the Cavaliers' Big Three can maximize their respective talents together, but Love and Irving are still learning to play off James and each other.

What the Numbers Say

When looking at NBA.com stats (via B/R Insights), a common theme appears: Lineups with James and Love are fantastic. Those featuring James and Irving are still pretty good. Putting Love and Irving together? Merely average, despite each star ranking among the best offensive players at their respective positions.

Bleacher Report notified Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue of these numbers, and asked if there was anything he or the coaching staff could do to further develop the relationship between Love and Irving.

"I just think when Bron sits out and those two guys are together, they just have to play their games," Lue told B/R.

"We have to run the offense through them. That’s not just scoring the basketball; it also means getting other guys involved and making the pass and making plays. As far as them playing well together, I think they can do that."

No matter how good Irving and Love can be individually, they've proven incapable of carrying the team in James' absence. The Cavaliers are just 4-14 in games when LeBron sits the past two seasons, a winning percentage that most closely compares to the Los Angeles Lakers' 16-62 mark.

Mark Duncan/Associated Press

With James, Irving and Love? Cleveland has posted a net of just plus-6.3. On paper, this combo should be one of the best in the NBA. Right now, they're far from the best on their own team.

Cleveland's actual best Big Threes this season have consisted of James, Love and Tristan Thompson or Matthew Dellavedova. The three-man lineup with Thompson has a net rating of plus-18.9, the third-best mark in the entire NBA. Swap in Dellavedova for Thompson, and the Cavs' net rating dips only slightly to plus-18.5, the fourth-highest total in the league.

What the Experts Say

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant knows how to—and not to—mesh superstar talent. 

"I think it's very hard because you're always trying to balance group dynamics with LeBron and Kevin and it's important for them to figure out how all three of them can play at their highest level of potential," Bryant said during his final trip to Cleveland on Feb. 10, a game the Cavs won 120-111.

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

And what about Irving, who so often appears to be on an island offensively?

"I think what he has to do is just focus on being himself. I think he struggles with that a little bit, trying to figure out what is what."

A rival Eastern Conference scout thinks the problem might be more serious.

"I just don’t think Kyrie fits in. He’s a square peg in a round hole with the way LeBron plays. They’re better with LeBron at the point and Kyrie off the ball. Kyrie’s a scorer, that’s what he wants, that’s his mentality. He’s very weak defensively. LeBron wants a little more out of him in other areas. Now, Kyrie’s a great player. He’s really talented, but it’s just not working out right now."

Unfortunately for Cleveland, the numbers back this point up. Overall, the team has been better with Irving off the floor this season, registering a minus-0.8 per 100 possessions. This kind of impact ranks seventh on the Cavs, far below James' team-best plus-16.5 mark.

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

But what about Love? He's been far from the aggressive scorer of yesteryear with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Isn't his dip in production to blame as well?

"Kevin Love really isn’t much different from what he was in Minnesota," the scout told B/R. "He was a very good player on a bad team. He’s not a great player. He’s not what I would call a max player. People expect more out of him, but he’s doing what he’s always done. He’s just not the scorer he was in Minnesota because he got a lot more touches and a lot more looks.

"On this team he’s got a lot better cast around him so he’s trying to fit in, and he’s struggled. Maybe we’re expecting great, great things out of Kevin and I don’t think they’re there. I think he’s a good player, a real good player. He’s one of the top players on a not-so-good team, but on this team trying to fit in with what they’re trying to do has been a struggle for him."

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 5:  Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks on April 5, 2016 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User exp
Gary Dineen/Getty Images

Love's scoring and shooting percentages have all dropped even from a year ago, when many pegged him as a goner once free agency hit. Still, the Cavs' team numbers with him and James have been strong, and Cleveland is 5.0 points per 100 possessions better with Love in the game.

Now comes the true test, and what will hopefully be their first chance to win a title together.

Heading into their second postseason as a team, the key remains figuring out how to maximize their stars' collective talent. If another loss in the Finals or earlier occurs, this could very well be the end of James, Love and Irving together in Cleveland.

Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @CavsGregBR.

All quotes obtained firsthand. Stats via Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise sourced.


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