The Kyrie Irving Effect

The NBA Finals just finished a week ago and boy it was a blast. KD, LBJ, Steph, Klay, Draymond, and wow didn’t Kyrie put on a show to make it close? His unstoppable scoring seemingly kept the Cavs in it and made them very competitive in Games 3-5. Or did it?

How much does Kyrie going one-on-one in an iso formation while 4 guys stand around really help the team? Games 1 and 2 he still had ok numbers. But they got blown out. In Game 2 there were murmurs about the number of missed fields goals and turnovers that led to Golden State buckets. Chauncy Billips said ‘I didn’t like Kryie’s game tonight – it was kinda ugly’. Indeed in that Game Kyire had a plus minus of -17. But this is a floored stat as it discounts who is on the floor with him. Zaza has one of the best plus minuses in the league. But he plays with 4 all stars. So let’s look deeper into Kyrie’s Game 2. His 15 missed field goals led directly led to 16 golden State points. Again this is a floored number as it only looks at the negative number. If we are counting how many points Golden State scored off the back of Kyrie’s failed possessions then we need to count how many point they scored off the back of his successful possessions and then tally the difference. But let’s put that analysis on hold.

My feeling at looking at the game, and as a recreational basketballer that believes in team play, is that one-on-one iso basketball is bad for the team. Bad teams resort to hero basketball. Good teams share the rock and get good shots. It works in the Wednesday Night gym at your local club and it sure works for Golden State. The reason is two fold. Hard shots are hard shots. Taking a fadeaway over a defender that is in your face or slicing through and beating three players on the way to the basket is much harder than hitting a wide open three or dunking home a lop off a back door cut. But ok Kyrie is really good at iso so the end justifies the means right? But what if having 4 guys stand around also has a negative effect on your team defense? Guess what? Basketballers tend to try harder when they feel engaged as part of the team. They need to touch the ball. Iso ball leads to transition baskets for your opponents as the attacking player is out of the play having just gone towards the basket or recovering from their fade away towards the sidelines. The rest of the guys are also standing around flat footed watching and disengaged. No wonder the media and even Tyrone Lue was on the back of the Cavs calling for more effort. JR Simth and Tristen Thompson I feel you. Is it any wonder the Cavs ranked 22nd in the league in defense in 2016/17?

So back to the numbers. I went through each Final’s game play by play and tallied Krie’s scoring possessions (made field goals and free throws) and then tallied Golden States possession immediately following. In other words let’s have a look at Kyrie’s “usage” possessions versus the possession immediately following. I like to call this stat USAGE PLUS MINUS:

Game Result Name Usage Plus Minus Usage Rate Actual Plus Minus Pts Rebounds Assists
Game 1 Loss (-22) Kyre Irving -3 31.1 -17 24 3 2
Game 2 Loss (-19) Kyre Irving -13 27.5 -17 19 2 7
Game 3 Loss (-5) Kyre Irving +6 32.2 -9 38 6 3
Game 4 Won (+21) Kyre Irving +16 33.7 +7 40 7 4
Game 5 Loss (-9) Kyre Irving -5 29.8 +4 26 2 6
Series Loss (-34) Kyre Irving +1 30.86 -32 29.4 4.0 4.4

We can see here that Game 2 was indeed a horror game for Kyrie. Further Games 1 and 5 were also in the negative usage+-. Game 3 Kyrie was scoring from all over the place but still only managed a usage+- of +6. It wasn’t until Game 4 when Kyrie’s strong scoring led to very good things for the Cavs. When all his teammates are draining threes at record rates then this is a deadly combination. Particularly when you see a rejuvenated Triston Thompson and a desperate home crowd. Overall the effect of Kyrie’s scoring was +1. Not quite the result I was looking for but heavily weighted by his +16 in Game 4.

There are of course other factors, Usage+- does not show us everything. It does not show us individual defense. It does not show us the value of rebounding. Or even assists. We can’t factor in an assist as a usage play without factoring in passes that led to a missed shot. This is not recorded by the play-by-play nba score keepers. So when looking at the impact of a player you do need to also look at these other stats. And use usage+- as more of an indicator of how well a player is impacting the team as a scorer. Unfortunately for Kyrie he does little in the way of rebounds and assists. His job is a scorer. Kyrie’s actual plus minus for the Finals was -32 which potentially shows up his low value to the team other than scoring.

The Usage+- analysis of Kyrie would have little meaning unless we also looked at other players. Let’s look at the top 3 scorers from each team – sorry Draymond but we all know your greatest strengths lie elsewhere.

Lebron James

Game Result Name Usage Plus Minus Usage Rate Actual Plus Minus Pts Rebounds Assists
Game 1 Loss (-22) Lebron James -12 34.1 -22 28 15 8
Game 2 Loss (-19) Lebron James +3 25.1 -11 29 11 14
Game 3 Loss (-5) Lebron James -5 32.3 +7 39 11 9
Game 4 Won (+21) Lebron James +0 30.0 +32 31 10 11
Game 5 Loss (-9) Lebron James +10 32.2 -13 41 13 8
Series Loss (-34) Lebron James -3 30.74 -7 33.6 12.0 10.0

Lebron needed to average 33.6 points in the series for the Cavs to even be semi competitive. However the net effect for the Cavs when Lebron is a scorer is quite low. Other than Game 5 he had little positive effect and in game 1 he was bad. In Game 2 his usage rate was well down and despite having a +3 Usage+- the Cavs were blown out. Game 3 his numbers were great but his usage+- shows that GSW tended to score at the other end too easily. In Game 4 his scoring has zero effect as his teammates lifted but in the Game 5 finale this flipped and his +10 usage+- was not enough to make up for the rest of his teams deficiencies. The guy average a 30+ points triple double at 32 years old. I think we can still hail the king.

Kevin Durant

Game Result Name Usage Plus Minus Usage Rate Actual Plus Minus Pts Rebounds Assists
Game 1 Won (+22) Kevin Durant +14 32.2 +16 38 9 8
Game 2 Won (+19) Kevin Durant +4 26.0 +21 33 13 6
Game 3 Won (+5) Kevin Durant +11 25.8 +0 39 11 9
Game 4 Loss (-21) Kevin Durant +12 31.9 -22 35 5 5
Game 5 Won (+9) Kevin Durant +14 27.5 +18 39 7 5
Series Won (+34) Kevin Durant +55 28.6 +33 35.2 8.4 5.4

KDs numbers are spectacular across the board and the Usage+- only serves to confirm him as the Finals MVP. He was positive in all games and double figures in all but Game 2 where he still chimed in with 13 rebound and 6 assists. Even in the Game 4 blow-out loss GSW was much much better when KD had the rock. And his Games 1, 3 ad 5 were things of beauty. His +55 over usage+- is ridiculous. MVP MVP MVP.

Steph Curry

Game Result Name Usage Plus Minus Usage Rate Actual Plus Minus Pts Rebounds Assists
Game 1 Won (+22) Steph Curry +8 28.5 +20 28 6 10
Game 2 Won (+19) Steph Curry +3 34.5 +21 32 10 11
Game 3 Won (+5) Steph Curry +13 24.3 +11 26 13 6
Game 4 Loss (-21) Steph Curry -14 21.3 -25 14 5 10
Game 5 Won (+9) Steph Curry +4 31.2 +3 34 6 10
Series Won (+34) Steph Curry +14 27.9 +33 26.8 8.0 9.4

No suprise here. The Warriors highs and lows ride the same wave as Steph Curry. He was usage+- positive in all games they won and -14 in the game they lost. We can see here that his impact as a scorer is perhaps less than expected in Games 1, 2 and 4, although he had double digit assists and 6+ rebounds in each. Similar to LBJ here, Steph needs to perform for the Warriors to be themselves – which for them means winning most games handedly. His overall usage+- of +14 and strong numbers for scoring, rebounding and assists show that he was finally at his normal high level during the NBA Finals.

Kevin Love

Game Result Name Usage Plus Minus Usage Rate Actual Plus Minus Pts Rebounds Assists
Game 1 Loss (-22) Kevin Love +0 18.9 -11 15 21 1
Game 2 Loss (-19) Kevin Love +2 33.1 -8 27 7 0
Game 3 Loss (-5) Kevin Love +0 16.0 -11 9 13 1
Game 4 Won (+21) Kevin Love +9 23.9 +18 23 5 1
Game 5 Loss (-9) Kevin Love -5 14.6 -23 6 10 2
Series Loss (-34) Kevin Love +7 21.0 -35 16.0 11.2 1.0

KLove had a much better Finals than last year. And his Usage+- reflect that he had a very solid performance against possibly the best team of all time. Only Game 5 did his usage+- dip into the negative. Interestingly Love’s Usage rate tended by be quite up and down. This may be evidence that the Cavs need to find a way to involve Love more consistently. And when they do he tends take good shots and the Cavs play good defense. Love’s off Games in 3 and 5 reflect more a very low usage rate and he was strong on the boards throughout the series.

Klay Thompson

Game Result Name Usage Plus Minus Usage Rate Actual Plus Minus Pts Rebounds Assists
Game 1 Won (+22) Klay Thompson -9 18.0 +8 6 4 4
Game 2 Won (+19) Klay Thompson +12 16.6 +24 22 7 1
Game 3 Won (+5) Klay Thompson +5 21.0 +3 30 5 2
Game 4 Loss (-21) Klay Thompson +1 15.7 -7 13 3 2
Game 5 Won (+9) Klay Thompson +1 15.9 -6 11 5 2
Series Won (+34) Klay Thompson +10 17.6 +22 16.4 4.8 2.2

Klay had an up and down series in conventional stats but other than Game 1 he had positive usage+-. This would reflect his strong defense at the other end even when missing shots. His Game 3 performance was a little forgotten in the shadow of KDs clutch plays but his strong play kept the Warriors in it when the Cavs were on a roll. Of course a criticism of Klay is that he does not always do enough in other areas – his assist and rebounds are low. Klay and the Warriors could benefit from getting him more involved especially when Klay is feeling good. A series usage rate of 16.4 is far too low for such a talented player.

Looking beyond this years Finals, I look forward to exploring the usage+- metric further. Let’s look at Carmelo Anthony vs Kristaps Porzingis and see what is really good for the Knicks. How do we really rate Russell Westbrook’s 2016/17 season?. And what can this tell us about draft prospects and their play at the NCAA level?

So what does this all say about Kyrie Irving? Well he had the highest usage rate of all players in the finals. And as one of the two kings that make up the cavs offense he needs to have a more positive overall effect. Especially when considering his rebounding and assist numbers. What’s missing here is the scoring impact of the rest of the cavs players – we will save that analysis for another time. It is clear that with the Cavs big 3 all having solid usage+- the rest of the team must be awful. And Kyrie is not making them any better.

If the Cavs want to compete against the Warriors in future finals then they need to get Kevin Love and the rest of the team more involved. And this starts with Kyrie doing a better job as point guard. If he can eliminate some of his bad shots and turn them into creating opportunities for others, then his team will be more likely to score, and more likely to put in the effort required to defend at the other end. Can they really beat the Warriors? Well that probably depends on who makes up those teammates. Let’s see what the Cavs do in the off season and let’s see if Kyrie “learns to play with others”. It’s time to grow up Kyrie.

Ulysses Oliver

June 17, 2017

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Megan wrote
Hi Bob. What time will be the meeting ?
Hi Megan. It's at 2.30PM
Megan wrote
Will the development team be joining ?
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Megan wrote
Noted. For the Coca-Cola Mobile App project as well ?
Yes, sure.
Please also prepare the quotation for the Loop CRM project as well.
Megan wrote
Noted. I will prepare it.
Thanks Megan. I will see you later.
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Sure. See you in the meeting soon.
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