San Antonio Spurs: Kyrie Irving’s potential battle to be the ‘focal point’

By Rob Wolkenbrod
OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 12: Kyrie Irving
OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 12: Kyrie Irving
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If the San Antonio Spurs acquire Kyrie Irving, how much of the “focal point” can he be?

Brian Windhorst of ESPN’s report on Kyrie Irving’s trade request was the latest shockwave through the 2017 NBA offseason. It was about Irving’s desire to be “more of a focal point” on another team, despite playing with LeBron James on the Cleveland Cavaliers and making three consecutive NBA Finals together. The San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Miami Heat were listed as potential destinations.

Irving may not find trouble being the focal point on the Heat or Knicks. He would arguably be the best player on the Timberwolves, too, even with Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Jimmy Butler in place.

If the Duke product went to the Spurs, then there’s a different situation on its hands. It’s teaming with another star small forward and the player who’s become The Guy in the Alamo City, Kawhi Leonard.

The one who they call Klaw, had his best season in 2016-17 as the official focal point of the Spurs offense. He put up a career-high in points (25.5), field goals (8.8), and field goal attempts per game (17.7). These are numbers that consistently rose in each of Leonard’s six NBA seasons, culminating in his superstar status this past season.

If Irving were to battle to be the “focal point” of the team, he would contest his 19.7 shots per game from 2016-17 — by far his career high — against Leonard’s. It’s two shots more per game, with a 25.2 points per game average. So a difference is there, but not all that much.

To go further, let’s look at the Usage Percentage for the top players on San Antonio and Cleveland from the 2016-17 season. As listed by Basketball-Reference, it’s an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor:

Cleveland Cavaliers

  • LeBron James – 30.0%
  • Kyrie Irving – 30.8%
  • Kevin Love – 26.4%

San Antonio Spurs

  • Kawhi Leonard – 31.1%
  • LaMarcus Aldridge – 24.5%
  • Pau Gasol – 21.3%

Irving was the most used player by the Cavaliers when on the floor, barely. He played two fewer minutes per game than James, which could dilute the latter’s Usage Percentage a bit. But, when playing, he had more than a fair share of involvement on the floor and 1.5 more shots than LeBron per game.

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As for the Spurs’ Usage Percentage, he could step in as the most used player on the court, taking some of the pressure off Leonard to do the work. Is it going to be all that different, though? If anything, it may be lower for Irving, with players like Gasol, Patty Mills, and Manu Ginobili having Usage Percentages between 19 and 21.5 percent and playing 60 or more games. Add in Rudy Gay, whose career number is 24.5 (likely to drop for next season), and it further clogs the potential of Irving’s desire to receive a bigger piece of a team.

Of course, it’s a different story if a piece like Aldridge moves in a Irving deal. That would leave the Spurs without that premier option inside, making them a more outside-in team and putting the ball more in the 25-year-old’s hands to make the offense go from the point guard position.

Next: Potential trade chips for Kyrie Irving

Irving’s quest to be more of a team’s “focal point” can come from a handful of NBA teams. On the Spurs, it’s not so much a given, but that all depends on who goes to Cleveland in a possible trade. His role as the lead guy wouldn’t fully be there, with Leonard and Aldridge as two top names in place. Team dynamics can change. How much is the question, though.

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