Kyrie’s Defense is Offensive. Part I

November 14th, 2012 by Nate Smith

Evil Spock is the one that doesn't play defense.

Note: due to the number of pictures in this post, I’ve broken it into two parts.

So now that we’ve all had a day to process last night’s debacle, a loss in which the Nets shot %54.5, with only 13 turnovers, and outrebounded the Cavs 39 to 35, it’s worth looking at the defense.  It’s an understatement to say that the Cavs have been bad on defense so far this year.

Cleveland is last in the league in opponent field goal percentage at %51.4.   They are 24th in rebounds per game, 29th in defensive rebounds per game (of course part of that is because they allow such a high shooting percentage).  They give up an astoundingly bad 1.35 points per shot.  They are 24th in Opponent free throw attempts.  The block shot number is truly pathetic, at 1.6 per game, a full 1.4 blocks less than New York, the 29th ranked team.  There are 18 players in the league that block more than 1.6 shots per game.  The one thing the Cavs are good at?  …Generating turnovers.  They are 4th in the league at that.  And they ARE tied for fewest technical fouls in the league.  Put it all together and these numbers paint the picture of a team that plays extremely undisciplined defense: high risk/high reward defense that generates a few extra turnovers a game, and a lot of wide open shots.

Their offense doesn’t feed the defense either as they turn the ball over 17 times a game, good for 27th in the league.  They are 27th in point differential at -6.9 per game.

As bad as the Cavs are on defense, there is one player I believe is head and shoulders below everyone other starter on defense.  The Cavs start six players: Anderson Varajao, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thomson, Dion Waiters, Kyrie Irving’s offense, and Kyrie Irving’s defense.  This is like the Star Trek where evil trans-dimensional Kirk replaces good Kirk, except it happens to Kyrie every time he doesn’t have the ball.  The players look exactly the same, but one is good, and one is terrible.  It’s mind boggling how a player who is so gifted and instinctive on offense can be so terrible on defense.  Maybe Kyrie needs to lose the Evil Spock goatee.

It’s hard to get raw stats on Kyrie Irving’s defense this year because of the small sample size, and because Byron Scott has routinely been shifting Kyrie to the opponent’s worst wing.  KI spent much of last night guarding C.J. Watson.  But opposing point guards have been torching the Cavs to the tune of 23.5 points per game, and 11.9 assists, combining for a 19.1 per.  His defensive rating last year was 110 points per 100 possessions (54th worst), and it’s 111 this year (30th worst).  (Interestingly, Samuels, Leuer, and Sloan are worse.  Sloan has the 4th worst rating in the league).  KI’s Defensive Wins Shares last year was .6 for the year, and this year, it’s zero.  It’s not negative, but it’s not good.

Why is it so bad?  What are the mysteries of defense that have eluded Kyrie?  In short, Kyrie Irving is disengaged and lackadaisical on defense.  He does not seem to be thinking at all when he’s on the court.  The angles he takes in certain situations are worse than bad.  He also has terrible fundamentals on and off the ball.  And in a pick and roll league, he’s one of the worst pick and roll defending guards there are.  He cannot get around a pick.  In the first quarter of the New Jersey game, I watched New Jersey run their first 6 plays against Kyrie (in his defense, he was guarding New Jersey point guard, Deron Williams).  Here are some examples.

Play 1

Here, less than a minute into the game, we see our first example. Kyrie is already at a terrible angle on Deron Williams. He needs to be spaced more between him and the basket. Kris Humphries is setting up for a back pick here, and it’s going to lead to a wide open layup.

Kyrie isn't making up any ground, and there's been no effort to jump the angle or run around the screen. Thompson will either have to pick up Deron, or it's a layup.

Thompson didn't do Kyrie any favors here, as he's sitting in no man's land, and a Kris Humphries jump shot would certainly be a better alternative than a D-Will layup. But it was the bad angle to start the play that set all this up. Two points for Brooklyn.

Play 2

17 seconds later, Kyrie in transition. Here, the problem is fundamentals. There is absolutely no knee bend by Irving and no defensive engagement. Irving is 8 feet back, and still at a bad angle given his posture.

Because of his bad posture and his lack of engagement, Irving can't stay with Williams, and he can't get under Thompson who's getting back on Humphries.

Waiters is having to come off of Bogans, and is in a terrible position, and Kyrie finally has some knee bend going, but it's too late. Waiters and Thompson are hung out to dry. This play is either a layup by Williams, a shot at the rim by Humphries, or an open 3 by Bogans.

Rise and dish. Humphries is fouled by Varejao on the layup. Varejao was the only one playing defense here.

Play 3

24 seconds later, the Nets are going to run Kyrie off of a couple of staggered screens…

The pick is coming, and Kyrie's posture isn't awful, though his butt isn't down enough, and he's leaning too far forward.

Kyrie has very bad instincts and situational awareness (or is coached poorly) on when to go over or under the screen. Here, going under would not be the worst idea in the world because of Williams' distance from the three point line, and the fact that he's going to have a very hard time going over both screens.

In addition, Irving is very bad at "getting skinny" to get around picks. That has to do with being too hunched over and not being on the balls of his feet. He's trailing the play badly now.

Thompson now has to pick up Williams. He does not have nearly enough time to recover to Humphries by the time Irving catches up.

The Cavs get lucky here has this play only ends up as a non-shooting foul on Thompson.

Play 4

10:06 left in the first, and the Nets have gone after Kyrie their first four possessions. Post-up this time, and TT doubles.

This is Kyrie's man, but TT is the one challenging. Kyrie should be elevating too here. 2 points, Williams.

Play 5

9 minutes left in the 1st, and this one is especially bad.

Here Kyrie is guarding Williams who is off screen, about 32 feet from the basket. Kyrie's square to the sideline. This is horrible positioning.

Williams has already beaten Irving. He slips behind KI's terrible angle and anticipation. Williams was going to the middle the whole time.

Kyrie is comically out of position.

Now for the worst part... Lopez has actually bailed KI out here by giving him time to recover. But instead of positioning himself between Lopez and the basket...

Kyrie decides to front, which is a lazy and hopeless situation against a competent 7 foot center.

Here comes the Lob.

The hoop and the harm... Tristan picks up his second foul 3 minutes into the game.

Play 6

4 minutes left in the first…

Here's a terrible closeout by Kyrie on a skip pass...

Awful angle, square to the sideline, flat footed, no knee bend, hands down...

Williams blows by him.

This leads to a bucket off the square for Lopez. Irving standing there, having giving up on the play here is the worst part.

Play 7

Williams posting up at the elbow 3:20 left in the 2nd.  Cavs down 10.

Williams posting up Irving. Notice Irving is closer to the basket.

Now even. Irving should be pushing Williams towards his middle help.

Irving gave up on this move 3/4 of the way through it and is already turning around for the rebound. There is no challenge, and no lateral movement. 2 Points, Williams.

Play 8

Who exactly is Irving guarding here?

Play 9

Irving, caught watching the ball, is back-picked in a very bad position.

At that point, he should have stayed with Humphries, because now Irving is guarding no one.

Kris Humphries misses. Lopez rebounds and puts it back.

And that was just the first half!  Yes, the rest of the Cavs are bad right on defense right now, but this half was one for the ages by KI.

Click here for Part II.