The Celtics Sell Out for Kyrie Irving (8/22/17)
A massive trade has developed in the NBA off season. According to multiple reports, the Celtics will send Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Brooklyn's 2018 first round, unprotected pick to Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. If this seems like a big haul for Kyrie, it's because it is a massive haul for Kyrie Irving.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm a Kyrie Irving skeptic, but Danny Ainge certainly isn't. The reason for my skepticism is three-pronged. First, Kyrie has attempted to lead a team on his own, albeit a bad team, and failed. The LeBron-less Cavs weren't successful during the Kyrie era, plain and simple.
Second, Kyrie's raw stats are impressive and would place him atop the league's point guards. However, his high usage and having the opportunity to play with arguably the best player ever definitely helps that avenue. The use of traditional statistics will usually lead you to poor conclusions in these cases. Kyrie isn't as an efficient player as much as he is a high usage player.
Third, I'm a big believer in ESPN's new RPM rate metric as it correlates very closely to point spreads in the betting market. RPM rates Kyrie among the top-10ish point guards in the NBA. This season, Irving played in 72 games, was worth 8.28 wins (10th for PGs), and 2.05 RPM (12th for PGs). For reference, Stephen Curry was worth 18.8 wins in 79 games, Russell Westbrook was worth 17.3 wins in 81 games, and Chris Paul was worth 13.5 wins in just 61 games.
If you aren't a fan of RPM on its own, we can look at BPM, Basketball Reference's all-inclusive rate statistic. Irving ranks 15th (!!) in BPM and 13th in VORP (win value over replacement player). Why is Kyrie rated so poorly when he clearly has an impressive athletic ability? His defense is extremely suspect. In both RPM and BPM, about half of Kyrie's offensive value is sacrificed to his defensive liabilities.
On the flip side, Isaiah Thomas ranks 11th in wins and 13th in RPM; one spot behind Kyrie in each metric. Thus, if Thomas' efficiency continues for the Cavs, they've lost almost no value with the loss of Kyrie. If we add Jae Crowder to the mix, a plus player on both ends of the court, according to RPM and BPM, this trade heavily favors the Cavaliers and they haven't made use of the unprotected Brooklyn pick for next season that will be at least a top five pick. Sure, Crowder is an auxiliary player that doesn't typically create his own shots, but he'll continue to have Thomas along with the best creator in the NBA on his team to help get him efficient looks.
We also need to consider that Jimmy Butler, reportedly, would have cost the Celtics much less than Kyrie Irving just a few months ago. Jimmy Butler is a clear overall top player in the NBA according to every metric, traditional or advanced. One could argue the three years of Kyrie's deal is advantageous towards Boston, but Crowder is similarly efficient as Kyrie and is signed for the next three seasons, as well.
The Cavaliers, somehow, won the trade in terms of competing next year and for the future. Danny Ainge tore down nearly most of what he built for a top-seven-ish point guard in the league that was comprable to the point guard he already owned. Sure, he no longer feels obligated to offer an undersized point guard a max contract next season, but Thomas, Crowder, and a top unprotected pick should have returned at least a top-seven overall player. Was Ainge reaching due to his failure to make a deal on Butler? It sure seems like it.