INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Kyrie Irving has noticed teams trying to take away his access to the rim, and depending on how you judge it, they’ve had some success.
The sample size is small of course, but in three games Irving’s shooting just 46.2 percent on shots inside of five feet.
Considered perhaps the best undersized finisher in the NBA, Irving made good on 56.7 percent of those shots last season.
Irving is also getting to the hoop less. He’s taken only 20.6 percent of all of his shots from inside the lane, compared with 28.9 percent over the course of 205-16.
So, that’s one way to look at it. Opponents are making life hard on the Cavs’ point guard when it comes to getting to the rim and finishing once he arrives.
The other way: Irving is Cleveland’s leading scorer, the Cavs are on their first three-game winning streak to open a season in 16 years, and he’s eviscerating teams with his mid and long range jumpers.
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“Whether it be iso situations or pick and rolls with myself and Bron, teams are packing in the paint,” Irving said after the Cavs’ practice Monday. They host the Rockets Tuesday at 6 p.m.
“For me, it’s about being smart and efficient in the spots I’m in. That midrange pull-up, they’re giving it to me, I’m consistently just going to pull it and try to make it. Playing in that in-between game, for right now.”
Irving, who is 6-3 and 24-years old in his sixth season, said some of his lower-than-usual shooting percentage near the rim was due in part to some follies from opening night against New York, when “I think I missed three easy layups that I didn’t necessarily have to try what I tried, but I did.” Then again, he scored 29 that night and is pacing the Cavs with 25.0 points per game.
If teams are sliding their bigs over to make sure Irving has multiple sets of arms to shoot over in the lane, then they’re giving him way too much room outside of the key. He’s shooting a red-hot 58.3 percent (21-of-36) from 15-to-29 feet, including 10-of-15 between 15-to-19 feet and 11-of-22 on 3-pointers.
“That’s the shot he’s taking,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “He’s one of the best in between pull-up guys in the league. So that’s his shot, he doesn’t miss it a lot.”
These shooting numbers are going to subside, at least a little. Three games is nowhere near a large enough sample to make any definitive statements.
But Irving’s 25.0 ppg would be a career high. He’s shooting 46 percent overall — his career is 46.9 percent from his rookie season. If he were converting layups at his usual rate, he’d be on pace for a career year as a shooter, too.
“He doesn’t have any weaknesses, so, especially offensively,” LeBron James said. “He’s been great so far.”
Irving is, at this early, early stage, on pace to do something no one has ever done, and that’s lead a LeBron team in scoring for an entire season. James is averaging 21 points thus far (and 8.3 rebounds and 10 assists, which were good enough to make him, and not Irving, the East’s player of the week for Week 1).
Actually, the Cavs currently have three players averaging 20 or more points. Kevin Love contributing 20.0 ppg and 9.3 rebounds per game.
“I mean, we have three great players,” Lue said. “Three All-Stars and all three are dynamic so every night is going to be something different. I can’t say who is going to score 30 tomorrow or who is going to score 25 the next night. It’s just how the game goes. Kevin, he has matchups. Kyrie has matchups every night. Bron has matchups every night. So it can be either one of those guys.
“It’s just what two guys have it going at that time or what one player has it going at that moment, that’s who we tend to ride.”
At any rate, the Cavs don’t view Irving’s limited rim access as an issue.
“He hasn’t even brought it up,” James said. “We haven’t brought it up, so he’s the best finisher in the game. It’s no worry.”