What’s next for Kyrie Irving? After Monday put a cap on what was undoubtedly the best week to date in the 20-year old’s still-young career, he and those around him – friends, family, teammates, coaches and fans – are left to wonder what the Cavaliers point guard has in store, serving as an encore to one of the best show’s Cleveland has witnessed in recent years.
Through much of his time with the Cavaliers, Irving has earned the moniker of “Mr. Fourth Quarter” – late-game heroics and high scoring totals, the sneaky quick guard morphs, like an angered Bruce Banner, into a different player as the game draws closer to completion. Having seen what Irving can do when called upon, Cavs head coach Byron Scott was forced to have a one-on-one with the reigning Rookie of the Year with the objective of enticing the player to take what he has done in many of fourth quarters and extrapolate that over an entire contest. “Be aggressive and your teammates will follow,” Scott iterated.
The result, at least early in this new found experimental aggression, was a week to behold when it came to the playing floor: Forty points in a win over the Boston Celtics, 35 more against Milwaukee, and a game-winning three-pointer during the final second of a win in Toronto that was the perfect marriage of Laissez–faire and lethal. ((He was the fifth player in the history of the league to score 30 points in three consecutive nights)). Off of the court, Irving received the nod for Eastern Conference All-Star, becoming just the seventh player ever to get said recognition before turning 21 years of age1. Hours after being notified of his inclusion among the league’s elite, Irving would win the 2012 Professional Athlete of the Year Award as voted by the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. On Monday, Irving would win the NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week Award, encapsulating all that was accomplished over the last 168 hours.
Tallying an NBA-best 35.7 points scored on percentages that would be amazing for any player let alone a point guard – 61.2 percent from the floor, 54.5 percent from three-point range and 95.0 percent from the free throw line – Irving contributed to what is currently the Cavaliers’ first three-game winning streak since March of 2012. A win against Golden State on Tuesday night and the Cavaliers, a team that seemingly could not buy a victory unless the starts were properly aligned, could finish the month of January at .500 (7-7). Naturally, Irving focuses his emotions on the latter part of that equation.
“This has been a very good week for our team,” Irving said in reference to his Player of the Week award. “We’re working hard and making progress. While I’m honored to win the award this week, the most exciting thing is our success as a team and continuing our focus to get better every day.”
An integral ingredient in said focus will be Irving and his continued efforts at remaining aggressive. Twice in the last week, he has reminded those within earshot that he and his head coach had a talk and that he only has to be told something once before it’s ingrained in his mental cloth. Interestingly enough, Irving is starting to show a cerebral part of his game that was less obvious when he was a quiet, lead-by-example rookie on a team in dire need of direction. Today, we’re seeing a player who knew that he had yet to get a win over the Toronto Raptors – “Hell yeah, it was personal,” Irving said following his late-game heroics. We’re seeing a player who has slowed the game down to Matrix-like speeds, allowing him to further contort his body and utilize in-game choreography that few before him have shown, getting to spots on the floor that allow he and his teammates to maximize their effectiveness.
This aggression and understanding is leading to fewer turnovers, increased efficiency and, most importantly, wins. The trick, per usual with a young player, will be to ensure that Irving – who is already playing five more minutes per game than he did a season ago – can sustain such aggressive play over the course of a full game, a full week and a full season. Coupling a lockout-shortened season with a bevy of minor injuries, Irving has played just 85 games in the NBA. Each and every one of them has been an ocular marvel; it will be up to Irving and his coaching staff to ensure that there is some more magical fuel left in his 190-pound tank.
In the win over Boston, Irving came out firing with a 15-point first quarter, aided by three-balls, incredible drives and a few trips to the foul line. A 19-point fourth quarter was no different as Irving seemingly glided to the rim at will.
So where, exactly, do we go from here? For the Cavaliers, it’s to continue to grow and amass wins as we head into the All-Star break where Irving will have very little downtime. For the fans, continue embracing the displays provided by the second-year guard — he’s reaching must-watch-even-if-DVR’d territory with each additional night, even on Saturday night’s when Toronto is the opponent. For Scott, it will be a matter of keeping this team rolling, whether it is with his rotations or continued implementation of the two new players he has been provided by general manager Chris Grant.
And for Irving he has perhaps the biggest to-do list of them all: Stay grounded, stay aggressive, keep working, keep growing, become an even better leader, and — at least in the eyes of his head coach — get voted into the 2013-14 All-Star game.
“It’s nice to be voted in as a reserve,” said Scott, “but it doesn’t change my message to him — get voted in.”
(David Liam Kyle/Getty Images)
- Magic Johnson, Isaiah Thomas, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are the others – not terrible company to be a part of [↩]