Backcourt Harmony: Can it be achieved?

Kyrie Irving, Dion WaitersThose of you that follow me on Twitter know that I’m a fan of the Harry Potter franchise. There’s a moment in the series, the unveiling of Sybil Trelawney’s Prophecy, that is among the most dramatic. Among other things, Trelawney says about Harry Potter and Voldemort “for neither can live while the other survives“.

I’ve often thought about this phrase amid disjointed Cavaliers losses, while browsing Twitter to see #TeamKyrie and #TeamDion factions develop. It entered my mind again when trade rumors started to surface about Waiters along with rumors of a locker room brawl and punches thrown1. Can two young, dynamic scorers that need the ball in their hands more often than not live in harmony on the court? On a team chock full of storylines, this is the one that keeps getting shoved to the forefront. Let’s take a look at some numbers as well as some observations and suggestions from watching the two play for parts of two seasons together.

The first thing that should go without saying is that if this is an either/or scenario, it’s Waiters that will certainly be sent packing. As much as Dion has improved and as much as Kyrie has struggled this season compared to previous seasons shooting the ball, Irving is still the All-Star and the franchise player. It’s all about Irving allowing a fair amount of wiggle room and Waiters meeting him the rest of the way to fit into the offense. So how do these two fare when they’re both playing? Let’s take a look.


A couple notes:
-The Cavaliers shoot just about the same field goal percentage when these two are playing together vs. when they aren’t.
-With a -5.1 margin per game at the moment, the Cavs have a better +/- with Irving and Waiters in the backcourt together.


From the charts, it’s clear that the scoring between these two doesn’t follow much of a pattern. You see, however, that in the nine wins they’ve played together this season, Irving is averaging over twice as many points per game as Dion is (24.9 and 12.3). I think some of this can be explained by the fact that early in the season, it seemed that when Kyrie got going, Brown was using Jack to close out games more and sitting Waiters.

With Dion’s move to the bench after nine games this season, that 20 minutes per night average is going to continue to go down slightly. Using their overall minutes per night as a rough estimate, it will likely be more around 16 or 17 minutes. With the way Mike Brown is playing them now, these two are playing nearly half of their minutes each game without the other one out on the floor. For that stretch, each of these guys should be the center of the offense. I know Mike Brown made preseason statements about Mike Brown being a shooting guard only, but with the move to the bench, he’s seemed to soften on that stance a bit. Sure, he’s out there with Jarrett Jack most of the time, but Dion’s got the ball in his hands and bringing it up the court plenty. Since his move to the bench, Waiters is shooting 45.5% from the floor (an improvement of almost 6%), and he’s taking less threes and drawing more fouls. It’s because your taking out some of the redundancy that’s in their games (going to the basket and drawing fouls primarily).




This article makes me feel a little bit like a relationship counselor, but how can we make this work? Let’s start with Kyrie. There are times when Kyrie hijacks the possession, overdribbles, wavesoff optional picks for pick-and-roll opportunities, and forces shots up in traffic when he doesn’t have a look. But, in games like last night, Kyrie has shown that he has the ability to be a great decision-maker. He passed out of heavily contested shots late in the game last night that he would’ve certainly chucked up last season. He seems to be realizing that he doesn’t always have to do it all by himself. If he trusts the movement of the offense and keeps things flowing, he can rely on his above-average frontcourt to get some easy baskets and his spot-up perimeter players to knock down some shots. There have been some games where Kyrie has seemed to flatout ignore Dion’s existence out on the floor, but I’ve seen a lot more positive outcomes of late. For a guy with Kyrie’s talent, it can be tempting to settle for okay looks when you’re fully capable of getting good or great looks. That continues to be his biggest battle. For Dion, the single biggest development for him this season has got to be his improve mid-range and three-point shooting. This is how he is going to be able to coexist with Kyrie for the 16 or 17 minutes per night they’re both out there. From 10 feet and out, Waiters has largely improved in a big way.


Last year: dionshootinglastyear This year:



When Dion is out there with Kyrie, he should focus on getting open off the ball and taking confident mid-range shots. When he’s out there with Jack or Delly, Dion should enter more of an attack mode, more drives to the basket, more pick-and-roll threes, and more drive and kicks. Waiters still is not getting the foul calls that he really should underneath the hoop, but he’s slowly learning, like Irving, to kick some of those out. That improved mid-range game allows him to keep defenders on edge instead of them just having to guard the restricted area and the three-point arc like last year when he was a little too predictable.

One of the more intriguing stats that I found while looking through the numbers for these two was that almost 47% of Dion’s field goals are assisted while only 28% of Kyrie’s are assisted. Kyrie has assisted on 17% of Dion’s field goals this season (21 field goals), while Dion has assisted on a Kyrie bucket just SIX times this season. As much as I blame Kyrie for ignoring Dion for stretches, Waiters has to be willing to kick it back to Irving, especially since the Cavaliers had some success when they were able to keep Kyrie off the ball by having Jack or Dellavedova run the O in the Washington road game, for example.

I’ll conclude with the fact that many teams would love to have a scorer like Dion Waiters coming off of their bench. It has taken and will continue to take a lot of work for Kyrie and Dion to find some sort of compromise for spacing, shot selection, and passing to each other. But, with that work, the Cavaliers will get the advantage of at least one attacking player on the floor for 48 minutes, something that this offense desperately needs. Instead of butting heads, Dion should be Kyrie’s greatest asset. With those early second and fourth quarter bursts, Irving can get adequate rest and enter to close the game like only he can do. In games like the win over Orlando and the tough loss to Portland, we’ve seen both get 20+ points and give the offense a more even look for 48 minutes. Are there players that could better fit with Kyrie? Probably, but that could conceivably only makes Irving’s burden greater. If you have a team completely catered to Kyrie’s success and only his success, you lose on his off nights without question. With this setup, you have a chance to survive off-shooting nights from Irving.

Am I #TeamKyrie or #TeamDion? Neither, I’m #TeamWineAndGold with both Kyrie and Dion living and surviving together. (Photo: Phil Long/AP)

  1. See what happens when Chris Broussard comes to town? []