After the Cleveland Cavaliers’ rocky start, they’re now 10-7 and on a five-game winning streak.
One of their initial struggles was figuring out the balance of power between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
In early back-to-back losses to the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz, James purposely let his teammates fail by letting Irving and Dion Waiters run the offence and shoot at will, even to the detriment of the team. Irving at one point went 70-straight minutes without registering an assist, while James just stood by, watching.
However, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, James and Irving have figured out the best method for running the offence, and that largely means giving the ball to James to create while Irving takes a back seat. Windhorst claims that since November 7, after those back-to-back losses, James started taking control of the ball and running the offence. Since then, Cleveland is 9-4.
Proof of James’ ball dominance can be seen in the individual numbers. Since November 7, James has a 31.1% usage percentage — possessions that end in a field goal attempt, free throw attempt, or turnover — while Irving’s is 22.7%.
The Cavaliers are sixth in offensive rating since November 7, and their true shooting percentage has risen from 51% prior to 57.3% since.
James’ scoring and shooting are down this season, relative to recent years, but since his takeover in November, he’s averaging 8.5 assists per game. Conversely, Irving has become more of a scorer, averaging 22.5 points per game on 49.5% shooting (a factor of having to create shots less frequently) and only 4.8 assists per game.
The new relationship was never more evident than in the Cavaliers’ victory over the Knicks on Thursday night. In what was a poor shooting night for James, Irving led the way with 37 points while LeBron dished out 12 assists.
Whereas James, Dwyane Wade, and the Miami Heat took a full season to figure out the order of their food chain, James and Irving seem to have it down a little bit quicker. The Cavs will ultimately be judged by how they do in the postseason, but figuring out roles early on is the beginning of what could be an offensive powerhouse.
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