As we approach the holidays the NBA season begins to pick up. During the months of November and the first half of December most NBA teams are just getting their feet wet. Teams tend to come out slow and try to get back into game shape, except, of course, the Golden State Warriors who seem to have picked up right where they left off last season. As for the Cleveland Cavaliers, they have started just fine, but do not look like the title contenders many people expected. With a 13-5 record they sit atop the Eastern Conference. Of course they are doing so without multiple key pieces. Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert (their starting back court) have yet to play this season and Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith, and Mo Williams have missed some time. Despite their injury plagued roster they have continued to win games, but, in order for them to become the championship caliber team we all expected, Irving will have to return.
It is well documented that the Cavs big three does not always function perfectly at times, but when it does, oh boy. When Irving is in the lineup for the Cavs, they are a totally different team. Kyrie elevates them to another level. He is a top five point guard in the NBA when healthy and one of the league’s top scorers. Not only that, but he has improved his defense immensely over the past couple seasons. Irving is probably the Cavs’ best scorer (sorry LeBron) and has the ability to get hot at any time. A perfect example of Kyrie single handedly taking over a game and winning it for the Cavs is last season in San Antonio where he scored 57 including a buzzer beater three to send the game into overtime. His health going forward is obviously what is most important, but in order for the Cavs to start playing to their potential, they need him back on the court.
The only negative effect Irving could inflict on the team is taking shots away from Kevin Love. Love has gotten off to a good start this year averaging 19.2 points and 11.6 rebounds. But, it is obvious that Kevin is the third wheel in the Cavs big three and when he signed his extension this past summer, he accepted that role. Kyrie will open up more opportunities for other players like Love to score, but may take away from the amount of shots he takes. Irving’s ability to attack the rim and knock down the three pointer makes him a lethal option that defenses must pay attention to. He spreads the floor nicely and when he attacks, that opens up the option to kick it out to shooters on the team.
The Cavaliers are still the best team in the East even without Kyrie in the lineup. But in order to play for a championship and compete against the Warriors and Spurs, Kyrie will need to be healthy. The Cavs are taking the correct approach by giving him as much time as he needs to be 100% healthy. The Cavs do not necessarily care much about how many regular season games they win as long as they are healthy heading into the playoffs. The sooner Irving comes back, the sooner the team can get back on track and play like an elite group. They would like to have a nice rhythm going into the playoffs as well. Kyrie has participated in full practice with contact, but is yet to put a time table on his return to the court. It is difficult to predict when he should be back in the lineup, but what if he made his return on Christmas day against a maybe then undefeated Warriors team, that would be fun.