April 24, 2014

Does Kyrie Irving have a second act up his sleeve?

Kyrie Irving

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.”

[Related: Young and hungry, Kyrie Irving is Cleveland’s new All-Star]

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)

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Footnotes:

  1. 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 []

  • MrCleaveland

    Alas, we all know what the second act will be long term. We just don’t know where. Will it be South Beach or West Beach?

    /crossing the line from maybe-this-time-it-will-be-different to reality

  • http://twitter.com/The_Real_Du Derek DuRoss

    Amazing that Kyrie is just over one full season of action in the NBA. Already 5 clutch game-winning shots on his resume.

    It may not be apples to apples but I was bored, so thought I would breakdown the first 85 games of LeBron and Kryie. Here ya go:

    Total Points:
    LeBron: 1848
    Kyrie: 1768

    FG’s (%):
    LeBron: 692-1658 (42%)
    Kyrie: 653-1385 (47%)

    3 Point FG’s (%):
    LeBron: 75-260 (29%)
    Kyrie: 141-349 (40%)

    Free Throws (%)
    LeBron: 389-522 (74%)
    Kyrie: 321-373 (86%)

    Assists:
    LeBron: 510
    Kyrie: 464

    Pretty interesting. I couldn’t find anything on PER for LeBron in his rookie year but based on the above, think it has to be quite a bit lower than Kyrie’s.

    Obviously rebounds will be a LeBron advantage but that is to be expected based on height and position.

    Also, assists will clearly go up for Kyrie as he gets more help and continues to be a threat off the dribble and from long range.

  • Mike E

    LAME.

  • mgbode

    great comparison. really amazing that LeBron’s assists outpace a PG while his rebounding numbers obviously dwarf them as well. still, we are talking about a comparison to the best player in the NBA and Kyrie’s numbers stand up across the board pretty well. that is impressive stuff.

  • mgbode

    Booo!

  • MrCleaveland

    I know, I know, the truth hurts.

    Just keepin’ it real, guys.

  • Harv 21

    Oh, this kid will have some second acts coming. But whether they mean anything more to the franchise than a lbrave light shining from the depths of a cesspool will depend on Chris Grant’s act in the next 18 months or so. He has accumulated a bunch of chits; what will the return be?

    Small disagreement about turnovers, Scott. Maybe numerically they’re down for Kyrie – I haven’t checked – but that long 3 erased two big turnovers he made at crucial times in the 4th quarter, once unnecessarily and stupidly trying to dribble through his man’s legs. If that last second shot rims out we might be talking about his late turnovers. When he gets his Robin he hopefully won’t always feel like his best 4th quarter option is always to don the cape and play one-on three when defenses swarm him. Get him help, Grant. Pete Maravich was fun to watch but could only beat so-so teams by himself.

  • D

    loser

  • mgbode

    we have 5 more seasons at least before we have to contemplate such things. let’s let it ride for now, okay?

  • MrCleaveland

    Wow, such rejection of pessimism! I like it!

    You know, maybe you guys are right. Maybe this time things WILL be different! Maybe a new day has dawned for our beleaguered fans! Gosh, this is going to be so great!

  • Jaker

    Yeah it’s pretty insane that the numbers stack up well against the best player in the NBA. Especially the shooting %s. FTs, 3s and regular fgs all go to Kyrie, meaning he is either a better shooter, smarter shooter or both( at this point in the very early stages of a career). I tweeted right after he made the winner at Toronto “remember this moment forever, as the moment where the rest of the world learned how great this kid will be”

    Kyrie for Eastern Conference player of the Month!!!

  • Mike E

    I wouldn’t go that far, but terrible attitude for sure.

  • Jaker

    Go home

  • MrCleaveland

    Okay, okay, I’m sorry I ruined everybody’s good mood on this beautiful, sunny 80-degree day.

  • Mike E

    Who knows, but today is cool…..and last week was fun, so why ruin that?

  • Harv 21

    There comes a time in every life when a man says, “what a perfect day for a public flogging.”

    In this era of NBA stars going wherever their hearts lead, I’m fine with Kyrie. Enjoying him now, not pretending he likes me or the city, and will wish him the best when/if he goes. No more fake vessels for my hopes and dreams, nope, me and the current golden boy have an arm’s length transaction going on. Not my family member, not my pet, more like another racehorse in the stable and it’s a known fact that the paddock fence here is a little iffy once the horses get to a certain size.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    He and LeBron playing together (in Cleveland) would be a beautiful thing!

  • MrCleaveland

    I’m just doing it for their own good. Someday they’ll thank me.

  • mgbode

    how’d you know?

    http://www.weather.com/weather/5-day/Austin+TX+78739:4:US

    and the rain it shows is North of me. gotta love Texas in January :)

  • Natedawg86

    Lebron’s assists probably outpaced a PG because the offense started with ball in his hand every possession. So as a defender comes to help on D, here comes the assist.

  • http://twitter.com/The_Real_Du Derek DuRoss

    Here is another national writer, Zach Lowe on Grantland.com, drooling over Kyrie:

    “About a month ago, I was chatting with two NBA officials at a Knicks game a few days after Irving had come to New York and put up 41 points in a ludicrous near-comeback. None of us had attended that game, and we all agreed: We’d never miss an Irving visit to New York City again. He is already one of the half-dozen most entertaining players in the league, with an unusual combination of poise, smoothness, explosiveness, and creativity in the lane. That jumper … my god, that jumper. Every once in awhile, he’ll unleash something so crazy — a running/fading lefty floater from the baseline, for instance — as to require an immediate rewind and/or audible profanity. He’s still a limited defender, but that’s typical of most young guards carrying heavy offensive responsibility, and he’s getting better. Electrifying.”

    Here is link to full article titled “The All-Fun All-Stars” — http://goo.gl/VwTLA

  • porckchop

    I loved it, brought a big ‘ol smile to my face. Then again I am the guy trying to make a HOF argument for Ar… Ya know you should probably take Stings advice and don’t stand so close too me.

    (slinks away )

  • eldaveablo

    THIS is truth, not assuming the worst will happen in the future.

  • The Other Tim

    best show’s what?

  • saggy

    I do love me some Kyrie but in LeBron we see arguably the best player EVER. Kyrie is really really good. Not LeBron-good. Yet.

  • Steve

    Also to be noted, Lebron completed his 85th game about 6 weeks before turning 20. Irving has about a year of development on Lebron by game 85.

    And of course, you’re highlighting the one area where Irving has an advantage, shooting the ball. Lebron has shown to be a much better passer, and we can’t just wash away the rebounding. Lebron is an excellent rebounder for a guy who is “only” 6’8″. Through the end of Lebron’s second season, his career PER was 22.1, compared to Irving’s 22.0 right now. So Lebron’s would not have been quite a bit lower. And, of course, the defense. Lebron wasn’t great his rookie year, but decent enough, and really turned the corner his second year. Irving is still struggling at that end of the court.

    We can’t so easily discount all the non-shooting aspects of the game, which is what makes Lebron so much better than Irving at the same stage.

  • Steve

    Agree with this a lot. I get that we love our guy and want to prop him up, but comparisons to Lebron are wholly unfair, and will almost certainly result in disappointment. It’s best to avoid them.

  • Fern

    All this excitement! I can’t wait to turn on my TV tonight… only to discover the Blue Jackets are on instead.

  • Steve

    These are not “across the board” numbers. These are shooting numbers.

  • mgbode

    and points and assists. we already mentioned the rebounding deficit. but, I did take a gander at the other stats based on the above comment, just didn’t copy them over. here you go:

    PER 21.4(R), 22.8(2nd) – Kyrie
    PER 18.3(R) – note that is 79/85games included in the above sample for LeBron

    stls/36min
    Kyrie 1.5
    LeBron(R) 1.5

    blk/36min
    Kyrie 0.5
    LeBron(R) 0.7

    TO/36min
    Kyrie 3.1
    LeBron(R) 3.1

    rebounds/36min
    Kyrie 4.4
    LeBron(R) 5.0

    Those sure do look awfully similar “across the board” with Kyrie the better shooter, but LeBron the better rebounder.

    Now, yes, this is basically LeBron’s rookie year vs. Kyrie’s rookie + 1/2 2nd year. And, Kyrie gets negative points for his injuries and his defense (LeBron wasn’t good early, but he was better than Kyrie).

    None of that really matters. The fact that Kyrie is anywhere in that same stratosphere is remarkable. And, as a Cavs fan, we have been lucky to get to watch such talents twice in the last decade.

  • http://twitter.com/The_Real_Du Derek DuRoss

    Excellent addition to the stats i put up earlier.

    Agree with you that the fact we are even comparing Kyrie to LeBron is pretty amazing.

  • http://twitter.com/The_Real_Du Derek DuRoss

    How many game winning shots did LeBron have in his first 85 games?

    Kyrie is already at 5. He clearly is not afraid of the last shot. Something that took LeBron a long time to conquer.

    Kyrie = Clutch

  • mgbode

    see above stats. through 85 NBA games, it’s closer than you think.

    and, I agree to a point with the age-factor, but it’s also not Kyrie’s fault that the NBA changed the draft rules on him. let’s just revel in the fact that the numbers are even comparable :)

  • Mike E

    I can’t find any game winners for Lebron before 2006….there’s gotta be a game winner in there between 03′ and 06′ right?

  • mgbode

    he really struggled with those shots early in his career as noted here (2003 – 2006):
    http://www.82games.com/random12.htm

  • Jaker

    Espn needs to start re-airing the “I think we found Kyrie Irving” commercials like now!

  • mgbode

    ESPN needs to stay away from Kyrie Irving!

  • Steve

    Of course, Lebron took a 17 win team to 35 wins and increased the team’s scoring differential by 7.4 points a night in just one year, and they improved the next year. Kyrie’s first two years are going to be sub 30 wins (even if we adjust for the lockout) and only increased the scoring differential of the team by 1.8 in his rookie year. I’ll gladly trade a couple game winners a year for the chance to run out to a lead that you won’t give up 10 to 20 times a year.

  • Steve

    Per 36 takes away from the fact that Lebron could play more minutes a night, 39 to 30 in each of their rookie years. That’s a substantial number.

    If we use rate stats to compare Lebron’s rookie year to Irving’s 85 games, we see a STL% that is the same, a BLK% that is 44% higher for Lebron, and a TO% that is 16% lower for Lebron, and a RB% that is 15% higher for Lebron. These are noticeable differences. And that age thing is still huge.

    I’d also argue that it’s easier for a guy to develop a jumper, as Lebron has, than for a guy to develop multiple parts of his game like Irving will need to if he is going to be a MVP candidate.

    Fine, we just want to say how fantastic it is that we have a talented guy who looks like he’ll make a bunch of all star games? I’m on board.

    But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves if we’re talking about future MVPs (another article here) and comparisons to Lebron. Not just because it’s a ridiculous standard to put on anyone, and will very likely lead to disappointment, but because this town still doesn’t react well to Lebron’s name keeping this far from a healthy discussion.

  • Steve

    No one’s faulting Kyrie, but it’s a factor to consider. If Irving were to play in the league at 18, he, almost certainly, would not have had as good a rookie year. We have to be careful when making these kinds of comparisons because not all rookie years are created equally.

  • mgbode

    whatever man. i’m not going to let LeBron ruin my enjoyment of Kyrie, that’s just silly.

    is Kyrie doing similar things in his first 85 compared to LeBron? yes.
    does he have miles to go to reach the levels that LeBron reached? of course.

    adding the age factor is a good point of conversation, as are the rate stats (i’ll take a look at them as well), but they don’t end the conversation.

  • Steve

    No one said to let Lebron ruin your enjoyment of Kyrie. In fact, I’m stating the complete opposite. We need to purge any comparisons to Lebron if we really want to enjoy Irving. Like I said, if we want to be happy that we have a good talent, I’m in. But if we’re going to compare him to Lebron at every step along the way, we’re going to go batty.

    They aren’t even similar players!