During Friday night’s preseason bout in front of approximately 27 Pistons fans in Auburn Hills, Michigan, Irving came off of the bench for the Wine and Gold, but finished the contest with a team-high 21 points. While his shot selection and handful of turnovers were that of a 19-year-old getting his first taste of NBA action, his willingness to be aggressive attack the rim led to 15 visits to the charity stripe in just 26 minutes of play. The kid also added two steals, one of which ocurred less than two minutes after he had checked in and led to foul in transition and two of his 15 free throw attempts.
As an encore, in front of a home crowd during the team’s three-quarter scrimmage on Sunday afternoon, the first-overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft finished with 14 points, nine assists and six rebounds in 31 minutes of play. Irving also had the key to Lob City, tossing three alley-oop passes which were appropriately slammed home by his teammates and adding in a gentle dunk of his own.
“Great team win for us,” Irving tweeted followig the 91-87 win over the Pistons. “[A] learning process everyting single game for my team and me.”
A learning process, indeed. While many had expected the Cavaliers to retain point guard Baron Davis to help mentor the rookie point guard, the team felt that head coach Byron Scott would ultimately be the best mentor. Coming off of the bench behind Ramon Sessions – also an aggressive, quick player – early on will only help the transition between a collegiate career which was hampered by a foot injury to the NBA where he will be asked to carry teammates on his back for the foreseeable future.
“I really don’t have this attitude where I need to start or feel like I should start,” Irving told the media on Thursday afternoon. “I feel like my play will dictate that and as we continue to grow through training camp, hopefully I’ll be a starter. If not, I’ll come off of the bench and give my teammates my energy off of the bench.”
Even if Irving continues to come off of the bench, something that would not be anticipated to last long into the season, he is providing the Cavaliers and their fans with the most versatile point guard since the days of Terrell Brandon. Some already consider him to have the best mid-range game on the team, bettered in distance by only Daniel Gibson and Omri Casspi. Criticized for his speed, especially when compared to last season’s first-round selection John Wall, Irving was quick to show fellow rookie Brandon Knight that quickness isn’t just measured in timed a 40-yard dash. And while he may not be anywhere near the All-NBA skill level of a Derrick Rose, Irving’s willingness to take contact and get to the free throw line to help his team on a night where the jump shot merely wasn’t falling speaks volumes. Though it may not be represented in the box score, the composure and confidence is already present.
Irving is bound to have his ups and downs. For all of the praise the aforementioned Wall received early in his rookie season, he also missed a handful of games due to injury and provided 22 contests where he amassed at least five turnovers, frequently venturing into the sevens and eights. He’s bound to miss a game-winner; the inevitable 3-for-15 night will leave some fans scratching their heads. But in the end, Irving will be the main piece of the puzzle which Byron Scott and Chris Grant have been tasked with putting back together. His high-level of play, especially when considering that he is merely 19 years of age, coupled with his all-around pleasant personality and never-fading smile will finally give Cavalier fans a reason to hope.
We are talking about a kid growing up in a landscape of egos, fellow NBA players looking to build their own Mount Rushmores merely replicating their own face four times over, who passed up the opporunity to receive considerable endorsements via the channels of LRMR and Creative Artists Agency and chose his agent due to his beliefs surrounding philanthropy and community service; his agent Jeff Wechsler’s pitch involved the Best Buddies program and the power of giving back. Never getting tangled in the web of agents providing funds at a collegiate level, not willing to be bought by slideshows signifying Hollywood glam; a stark contrast compared to what the Cavaliers front office endured with it’s last first-overall pick.
No one knows what the 2011-12 season holds in terms of a win-loss record for the Cavaliers. But with a season of transition long in the rear view and Irving officially in tow, it’s safe to say that the Wine and Gold is finally taking steps in the right direction.
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)