LeBron James’ return to the Cleveland Cavaliers was by far the biggest sports story of the summer, sending expectations for the Cavs soaring even before the NBA season began. Now that the new “big three” of James, point guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Kevin Love has sputtered out of the gate to a 3–3 start, it is evident that Cleveland’s potential powerhouse squad will not reach its ceiling unless the Cavs institute major changes to their offense.
On paper, Cleveland has all the makings of a championship caliber team. James is undeniably the best player in the league, and is currently in his prime years. Irving and Love, having never played on championship-caliber teams, should be hungry to prove that they warrant their superstar labels. But so far LeBron’s younger co-stars, most blatantly Irving, have not fully grasped what it means to play on a team where they are not the focal points.
In a loss to underdog Utah Jazz on Nov. 5, Irving scored 34 points with zero assists, a mind-boggling stat line for a player who should be functioning as a distributor. Making this selfish performance even more damning is that Irving plays with two elite scorers on the wings. So far in his career, Irving has gained the reputation of an electrifying, flashy point guard who can take over games when he dominates the ball. But that is not how he should play if the Cavs are to reach their potential.
Part of this problem likely stems from the team’s lack of coaching experience. The point guard is the most direct extension of the head coach on the court. Cavs’ first-year coach David Blatt, widely considered one of the most talented coaches to ever come out of the Euroleague, has not yet asserted his vision for the Cavs’ offense in a way that maximizes his players’ ability. Blatt’s team has the makings of an offense that should be dynamic, spreading the ball around to its many scoring options. His remaking of the Cavs’ tactics must begin with a mandate to Irving to calm down, stop isolating and recognize that he now plays alongside the best player in the world.
For Irving to be dominating the ball on a team with LeBron James is ludicrous, and will undoubtedly lead to the failure of this experiment. But if Irving alters his style of play to spread the floor more and maximize his teammates’ talents, the results will come quickly and decisively.
In theory, the mixture of James, Love and Irving would provide one of the most deadly drive-and-kick offenses in recent NBA history. If all three are active without the ball and careful about what shots they take, the Cavs should possess by far the most potent offense in the NBA. Otherwise they will become a mess of egos, playing with little organization and trying to win games on talent alone—a recipe for disaster in the NBA.