If only for a handful of minutes, Cleveland’s sparkling new point guard and power forward were neither “one” nor “four.”
Be it out of experiment or necessity, Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott ran select five-man units which featured Kyrie Irving as the off-guard next to Ramon Sessions while the ever-bouncing Tristan Thompson took every inch of his 6-foot-8 frame and played center. The result of the entire contest was a win as the Wine and Gold came back from a double-digit defecit to top the Charlotte Bobcats in their own house. The result of the multi-positional undertaking, at large, remains to be seen; for one afternoon, Scott was pleased with the outcome.
For those unfamiliar with the Positional Revolution, it is a term coined by Bethlehem Shoals of Free Darko fame, and is one which pays a bit of homage to the do-it-all types that broke the mold. No longer must a center be a back-to-the-basket bruiser, point guards be the scrappy run-and-pass types. Feel free to credit the emergence of Kevin Garnett, a seven-footer with hands and range well beyond his peers; feel free to just enjoy it while its here. Today’s unique athletes can no longer be slapped into a plug-and-play system. It’s not only a revolutionary term, it’s a liberating one.
And it’s one that may be afforded to the Cavaliers given their present make-up.
In it’s purest of meanings, Tristan Thompson playing center is not necessarily revolutionary. It’s not as if he’s guarding the opposing team’s big man and drawing him on the other end, slowly dragging him out to the wing and draining multiple 17-footers. But Thompson, a 6-foot-7-inch, 215-pound small forward in high school, has athleticism that seemingly knows no bounds. He’s blocking nearly three shots per-36 minutes and has length that diverts shot attempts in manners not encapsulated by ye olde box score. The Cavaliers are not in a place where they’re running plays for the fourth-overall pick; he merely makes his impact on his own regardless of time afforded. He’s atypical if only because of his size and experience.
Irving, conversely, is a pure point guard. He may not have the wispy hair and baseline moves of Steve Nash, but the rookie’s crossover dribble is enough to give Marcin Gortat flashbacks. He threads needles, finds cutters and puts his teammates in places which provides them the best of scoring opportunities. So to put him at shooting guard alongside Ramon Sessions — also a pure point guard who just happens to kill with quickness — not only maximizes potential ball movement, it forces the opposing team’s shooting guard to keep up with a player who is substantially quicker.
“Two great point guards playing with each other,” said Irving of on-court his time spent with Sessions. “It just makes the game that much easier for everybody on the court.”
Irving has the ability to create his own shot. In Charlotte, he went up-and-under with is right hand while later providing a highlight-worthy drive with his left – said move led to Austin Carr talking in the voice of a mid-puberty teen. But just when the Bobcats wanted to collapse in the lane during a play rooted in transition, the first-overall selection, despite being in a numbers-favoring situation, pulled up and promptly converted on a three-pointer.
“I thought [Kyrie and Ramon] did well together,” said Scott postgame. “I think it was a little odd for them because they’re both used to having the ball in their hands. One has to defer to the other, but I thoiught they did well on both sides of the floor.”
The “both sides” is highly operative given the size of the two men (loosely used) in question. Irving, on most nights, could fall into issues guarding opposing shooting guards based on size alone. However, with teams continuing to screen their point guards, he’s also alleviated from being abused in high pick-and-roll situations.
The Thompson decision is one that we may see again, but if only due to the perpetual lack of impact from any center not named Anderson Varejao. Varejao was needed for the fourth quarter and Antawn Jamison is nearing 40 years of age in the midst of a seven-game road trip. Alas, it was Thompson who was forced to learn on the job — just as he has at the power forward spot — as the “five” on both ends. When asked for a grade, Byron Scott stated that “he liked it.”
Just as Irving playing shooting guard stemmed from Anthony Parker falling victim to back spasms, Thompson as a reserve center could also be the product of a man simply not getting what he wants out of his reserve centers who can’t seem to stop fouling; Erden, at one point in the second half, was amassing more personal fouls than minutes played.
Feel free to coin this merely as two players playing out of position, or pound the table yearning for more. Either way, know that the players are fully on board.
As Thompson put best, “First and foremost, I’m a basketball player.”