This article is one in a series that uses the FantasyLabs Tools to build daily fantasy scouting reports for the NBA’s brightest stars.
Analyzing Kyrie Irving‘s place among the league’s elite point guards is a very difficult task. Sure, he outplayed the league’s first unanimous MVP during the 2016 Finals and hit the NBA’s biggest shot in recent memory, but Irving’s last three seasons have been a roller coaster overall. In his first season and a half with LeBron James, Irving averaged fewer than 22 points during both the regular season and playoffs. The ball-dominant Irving struggled to fit in with James essentially working as the team’s point guard, but things changed last year.
After an underwhelming regular season, Irving went off in the playoffs. His averages of 25.2 points and 4.7 assists per game were good enough to help lead the Cavaliers to an NBA championship. Irving has carried his momentum straight into this season, as he’s averaging a career-high 24.4 points per game and has averaged 5.9 assists per game – his most since 2013. This blend of scoring and playmaking has resulted in Irving averaging a career-high 40.33 DraftKings points per game this season.
Irving’s style of play had to change once James came to town. Coach Tyronn Lue has preached that the Cavs are at their best when Irving is aggressive and looking to score. After last year’s postseason success, it’s clear Irving has taken his coach’s advice. Through 49 games, Irving has attempted a career-high 19.6 field goals and 6.2 3-pointers per game. He’s remained efficient despite the increased volume, as he’s shooting above his career average from everywhere on the court. Irving has also continued to be smarter with the basketball: His 2.21 assist-to-turnover ratio this season is his best mark since 2013.
Irving has proved to be a more valuable DFS asset at home over the past three seasons:
Per our Trends tool, we see that Irving has posted a +1.7 Plus/Minus at home and averaged 37.62 DK points over the past three seasons. He’s failed to consistently exceed his implied point total away from Quicken Loans Arena, though that hasn’t been the case this season:
Irving has actually been more consistent on the road this season, but the main takeaway is that Irving’s new style of play has resulted in him producing wherever he suits up. Still, he’s undoubtedly continued to be better at home and his ownership hasn’t reflected this trend.
Irving’s splits as a favorite or underdog tell a similar story as before:
Irving has struggled to produce value as an underdog over the past three seasons and has clearly been better as a favorite. He’s managed to buck that trend this season, as he’s been excellent regardless of whether or not the Cavs have been favored:
Keep in mind that his sample size as an underdog this season is restricted to just six games, but the Cavs are rarely underdogs thanks to the presence of King James. Irving has been even better than normal as a favorite this season, but he’s also produced admirably as an underdog. Overall, he’s exceeded his implied point total during five of his six games as an underdog this season. Irving’s performance this season has been good enough to once again buck this trend, but he remains a lethal option as a favorite. He’s really stepped it up as a home favorite specifically, as he’s posted a +5.1 Plus/Minus and averaged 41.58 DraftKings points this season.
Versus Poor Opponents
Irving’s splits against poor opponents mirrors what we’ve just seen: After struggling from 2014-2016, he’s bucked the trend and played well this season:
Per our Trends tool, we see that Irving has posted a +4.1 Plus/Minus this season against opponents with a win percentage of 40 percent or less. This finding goes hand-in-hand with his performance in games that the Cavs are favored by double digits:
Irving used to struggled against poor competition, but he’s stepped up his game this season. The sample size from this season isn’t huge, but it’s telling that Irving has outplayed his poor splits for all three trends that we’ve looked at. At just 24 years old, it’s not surprising to see that Irving is currently playing the best basketball of his career, regardless of the situation.
Salary Sweet Spot
Irving’s salary on DK has reached a low of $7,100 and a high of $8,600 this season. He’s averaged 40.33 DK points per game this season. This implies that he should be priced at $8,500. Irving has been priced below $8,500 since the middle of January, though he’s continued to put up numbers. Overall, Irving has scored 40-plus DK points during five of his last six games.
Irving’s salary on FanDuel has reached a low of $7,100 and a high of $9,000 this season. He’s been priced up lately, as he’s been at $8,400 or higher during 10 of his last 11 games. Irving has averaged 37.33 FD points per game this season. This implies he should be priced at $9,000, so he’s been relatively underpriced lately across the industry.
Irving’s presence on the court hasn’t exactly led to many relevant Cavs producing extra value:
Out of the top-five Cavs in DK Plus/Minus differential, only DeAndre Liggins has played over 11 minutes per game this season. While Irving’s assist numbers are up this season, he’s still a shoot-first guard who will look to create his own offense when he’s on the court. Unsurprisingly, this has failed to lead to much value for his teammates.
There is value to be found when Irving is off the court, however:
Without a backup point guard, the Cavs have utilized Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, and James when Irving has sat. Love and Smith have produced the most value with Irving off the court, with Kyle Korver also playing well. Considering Love generates most of his offense from catch-and-shoot or isolation plays, it makes sense that he would benefit from the isolation-heavy Irving sitting. Overall, Irving’s average of 4.8 isolation possessions per game ranks sixth in the league, per NBA.com.
It comes as no surprise that Irving dominates the ball when James sits.
Love has also benefited without King James on the court and we’ve now seen a trend with the Cavs ‘Big 3’: When one star sits, the other two pick up the slack . . . right?
Almost. We’ve broken down King James before, but it’s not hard to figure out that he dominates regardless of who is around him (remember the team he dragged to the 2007 Finals?). Whether Irving or Love are on the court with the King is irrelevant: James will more times than not figure out a way to produce.
Instead, Irving and Love have proven to be the more volatile stars for the Cavs. Irving has significantly benefited (from a DFS standpoint) from James or Love sitting, just as Love has significantly benefited from Irving or James sitting. The Cavs don’t have a backup point guard, so Smith has filled in as the de facto fourth playmaker on the team. Both Love and Smith will continue to miss extended time with their injuries, but they’ve both provided value when forced into prominent roles.
Stacking the Cavaliers
Below is the average production for the Cavs during Irving’s 10 best fantasy performances of the past two seasons, first on FanDuel and then on DraftKings.
The above data backs up our findings in the on/off section. James and Korver have been the two best bets to stack with Irving during his top-10 fantasy performances. James has the ability to dominate any game without scoring, so it’s not surprising that he’s been able to put up serious numbers during games that Irving has taken over. The early returns on Korver are promising, though he’s played only 19 games with the Cavs.
Tristan Thompson has also produced value during Irving’s top-10 fantasy performances, though the rest of the Cavs’ regulars have struggled. Love, Smith, Channing Frye, and Iman Shumpert have all underwhelmed during Irving’s best performances. Look to stack the Cavs’ marquee scorer with his usual point forward along with the team’s newest sharpshooter in the right matchup.
Irving’s game has never been much of a mystery. With wicked handles and a soft touch, he’s regularly undressed defenders in one-on-one matchups since entering the league in 2011. Irving has reached new heights this season, but he’s still provided more value during certain situations. Specifically, Irving has thrived at home and as a favorite. The quality of his opponent used to bring him down, but he’s essentially balled out against anyone and everyone this season. Look to take advantage of Uncle Drew’s consistently excellent play while his salary still sits below $8,500 on both DK and FD.