Three Days Later: The Kyrie Irving Trade

On Tuesday night, Kyrie Irving was traded to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Nets' unprotected 2018 first round pick. Some of the dust has settled. How should we feel now?

The Kyrie Irving trade still feels a bit surreal. After the painstaking process of examining potential trade partners, coming up with non-existent offers, and wondering about what they could mean for the team's future, the deal is done. There is still a lot of "wait and see" left here, but let's take a more analytical approach to how this trade went.

Since we already know about Kyrie, let's just break down what the Cavaliers got in return for him.

Isaiah Thomas

Remember how good Kyrie has been offensively? Isaiah Thomas might be better. Last year, Irving shot the ball at a slightly higher percentage overall, but according to Synergy Sports, Thomas was in the 97th percentile in the NBA scoring 1.125 points per possession (PPP). Irving was in the 85th percentile at 1.058. Over the course of the season, that's a substantial difference.

Thomas managed to take almost five catch-and-shoot three-pointers per game last year to Irving's two. Isaiah shot about 40% on these while Kyrie was a dazzling 48%, but let's think about how this new situation will affect Isaiah.

LeBron James, you might have heard, demands attention. He has a way of getting guys open shots because if you single-cover him, he'll score 40 a night. For Thomas, that means clean looks. Last year, Thomas only managed 1.1 3PA per game when the nearest defender was more than six feet away (Kyrie had 1.5). With the nearest defender 4-6 feet away, Thomas averaged 3.1 per game to Irving's 2.6. The total numbers are about the same, but Thomas actually shot a better percentage on these. 

Imagine, if you will, that instead of Kyrie being ball-dominant and taking a shockingly low number of catch-and-shoots, you get Thomas involved who may be willing to say "Hey, this is LeBron's team. I'm here to enjoy the ride and win." Thomas will get open looks, and when he gets open looks, he makes them.

Thomas is a career 37% three-point shooter who gets to the free throw line constantly. He slashes, he scores, and he carried a team that had no other top-tier offensive players. He joins a team that has two outstanding offensive players and a handful of other good ones.

Much like Kyrie Irving, Thomas is a phenomenal finisher inside. It's mind-blowing when you consider that he's 5'9". Watch this and tell me how he does this.

He did that to one of the best perimeter defenders in the league in Patrick Beverley.

But defense.

Isaiah Thomas is in the running for Worst Defender in the NBA, particularly in the court of public opinion. He simply cannot body up with the giants around him. Whoever he plays for has to cover this massive hole in his game. On the bright side, players actually shot a better percentage against Irving (49.9%) than Thomas (45.5%) last year, according to Furthermore, per Synergy's PPP system, Irving was considerably worse: He allowed 0.989 PPP to Thomas's 0.916, although that's probably not the whole story.

The last thing about Thomas is that I'm not comfortable with his health. Danny Ainge has said that they wouldn't know until September if Thomas would be healthy enough to start the season after his hip injury in the playoffs. That's frightening. If he's not healthy, this trade is not good for Cleveland.

Jae Crowder

Jae Crowder is confusing. After watching him brick open three after open three in the Eastern Conference Finals, I never would have believed that he shot 39% from deep last season, but he did. Some other things I didn't realize about Jae Crowder

  • He's only 27 (I thought he was older)
  • In the 95th percentile overall last year in offensive PPP, per Synergy
  • Not a very good PnR defender (36th percentile)
  • Excellent spot-up defender, probably because he guarded opponent's best player and saw tons of spot-up shots
  • He was drafted by the Cavs but he, Jared Cunningham, and Bernard James were sent to Dallas for Tyler Zeller and Kelenna Azubuike. Fun fact, Jared Cunningham also came back to play for the Cavs later, as Crowder is now doing

While this isn't a statistic, Crowder was always the guy who would guard LeBron when the Cavaliers played Boston. That's great news for Cavs fans because now it will be up to youngster Jaylen Brown or possibly Gordon Hayward. 

Crowder very much fits the "team player" mold and could be the version of Iman Shumpert that the Cavs thought Shumpert would be (and has been, albeit in short bursts): A strong wing-defender who can knock down an open three without needing the ball in his hands. 

Additionally, Crowder is on a fantastic contract for the next few years, meaning that if LeBron chooses to leave Cleveland in 2018, a starting wing is already on the roster.

Ante Zizic

I'd be lying if I said I knew much about this guy, but he's a 7-foot-tall Croatian center who will turn 21 this winter. He didn't play in the NBA last year but averaged 9 points and 7 rebounds in 21 minutes a night in the Turkish league. That seems promising. Also, every letter has a marking above it when written properly: Žižic. Wild.

The Nets Pick

There's talk about the Nets maybe not being that bad this year, and I tend to agree. I think they're a 25-33 win team, which is markedly better than last year. However, some of the other teams that were bad have also improved. The bottom of the league will probably be the Hawks, Magic, Bulls, Nets, Lakers, Kings and Mavericks if I had to guess. But the Lakers, Kings, Suns, 76ers, and T'Wolves are all expected to be better than last year, so who knows?

Someone will end up tanking, and it won't be the Nets. Even so, they probably won't finish much better than the bottom 5, which would be fine for the Cavs' future.


There's still a lot to like about this trade for the Cavaliers. Think of the asset types in the NBA: Expiring contracts, inexplicably cheap contracts, young big men from overseas, and draft picks. The Cavs got one of each in this trade. That's a lot to like. There will be a lot more to like if Isaiah Thomas is completely healthy. 

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