Kyrie Irving was atop most draft boards when the Cavaliers selected him first back in June. That does not mean the pick was a slam dunk, can’t miss obvious kind of selection. Due to the injury suffered early on in his only season at Duke, there were many unknowns about the former McDonald’s All-American.
Kyrie has now played 30 minutes more as a professional than he did at Duke, and it is safe to say he is erasing many doubts about how well his game translates to the NBA.
Irving has scored in double digits in every game this season except for the opener. Seven out of the twelve games he has gone for 20 points or more, including the last five consecutive games. He is averaging 17.7 ppg and 5.3 assists which is slightly more points, and slightly fewer assists than Chris Paul in his rookie season, for those that love the comparison. Of course, we’re only 12 games into a 66 game season.
Forget about the numbers for a minute. Kyrie has shown me a few things recently that make me think he is the kind of player to build around.
I was very interested to see how Irving would do against the Jazz, the Lakers and even to a lessor extent Gortat. Bynum, Milsap, Al Jefferson, Josh Howard, Gortat and even Gasol are guys that aren’t shy about putting an arm through a slicing point guard on his way to the rim. I wanted to see how Kyrie Irving did against these teams and if he would change his approach, or be less aggressive going to the lane because of these players. Granted, none of them are Lambier or Mahorn, but other than Dwight Howard, there aren’t a lot of intimidating defensive players in the league these days.
Irving did an exceptional job of knifing through the lane, spinning and keeping the ball away from the defenders. He has a real knack for keeping his body between the defender and the ball, and is very comfortable going to the opposite side of the rim. As much as I wanted to see how Kyrie would react to a hard foul, nobody was really able to get a good shot on him. Any such foul would have been a flagrant foul because they were no where close to the ball.
At 19 years old, Kyrie still has to develop the kind of body that can take some punishment. As we’ve seen the last few years, playoff basketball gets more intense, and more physical. The lane shrinks. As long as he puts in the work in the weight room, I believe Kyrie will be just fine.
Irving also started to show his competitive nature on this most recent road trip. He sensed in the game against Charlotte things starting to slip out of control, and he took over. The Cavaliers ran isolation plays for him with under 4 minutes to go and the game relatively tied. He was aggressive and didn’t settle for an outside shot, but took the ball to the basket using screens. He wanted the ball in the clutch.
I also spent some time wondering what kind of players the Cavaliers need to surround Irving with to maximize his potential. With his driving ability, it will be important that the Cavs have a spot shooting weapon on the floor. Someone for Kyrie to kick the ball out to that can make collapsing defenses pay. It would help if one of the bigs could hit the deep ball (ala Dirk) to keep the opposing team’s center or 4 out of the lane.
The Cavaliers’ biggest need is for another scoring threat. Ideally, you would love Kyrie to be the second leading scorer on the team. As we’ve seen this season, when Kyrie and Jamison are scoring the Cavs usually win. Nobody expects Jamison to be part of the team past this season, and finding that scorer will be imperative for Chris Grant whether it is through the draft or free agency.
Several times in the Charlotte game, Augustin was able to get by Irving and into the lane. Playing in the same division as Derek Rose, the Cavaliers will need to have a player in the post that can alter or block shots. Hopefully Tristan Thompson will be that kind of player on a full time basis.
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)