Kyrie’s game may never change, but his body must

Kyrie Irving Atlanta Hawks Loss

Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving stood on on a small box which served as a riser, explaining that he — despite winning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award just a few months earlier — did not anticipate the toll that a compressed season as a professional would take on his body. It was the team’s media day, taking place on an October afternoon, where spirits were high and expectations were married with curiosity. Irving acknowledged that he possessed an 190-pound frame that carried more baby fat that he would prefer; the NBA game coupled with his style of play forced him to add what weight he could so he took it upon himself to add five pounds of muscle in the offseason.

The ultimate bout of irony was that while Irving spoke of the bumps and bruises his body was forced to endure while bouncing off of opposing big men en route to a stellar campaign, he was doing so with a four-inch scar on his right hand — the souvenir from his time spent with the Olympic Select team in Las Vegas, Nevada where his run would cut short after a frustration-based slap of a padded wall  resulted in surgery and a two-month absence from the game.

Prior to the incident in Vegas, Irving had sustained a concussion after he had hit the back of his head on the knee of Miami guard Dwyane Wade. Not long thereafter, he sprained his right shoulder when reaching across the lane in a contest against the Milwaukee Bucks — this injury would serve to cut his rookie season short. Since the fractured hand, Irving has fractured the index finger on his left hand, broke his jaw during a nasty fall — again, against the Milwaukee Bucks — and hyperextended his knee during a team practice.

The proverbial icing arrived Monday morning when the team was made aware that Irving would miss the next four weeks after suffering a strained left shoulder, an injury sustained during a collision which he’s had many times before. In the midst of a road game against the Toronto Raptors, Irving had the ball in the corner, noticing that the baseline was open for his having. Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas was late to help out, but made the smart move by stepping on the baseline and forcing the point guard to earn any points he would ultimately net. Unfortunately for Iring and the Cavaliers, he would net only one point after shooting a pair of free throws with only one hand as his left arm would lay limp from the blow it had just sustained.

Irving may be a lot of things: a fan favorite, an All-Star, a marketable personality. But if Cleveland fans have learned anything, he is by no means indestructable.

“He still is very young,” Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott said of his oft-injured point guard. “His body hasn’t fully developed. I’m just not that concerned about it, to be honest with you. All the injuries that he has gotten have been legitimate injuries. It’s not something that keeps recurring over and over again. From just what I saw last night with the little hip check, it was just an unfortunate foul that hit him right on the spot. So I’m not really concerned about it.”

As a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Irving is provided one of the best training facilities in the National Basketball Association. When he takes the floor, he may as well be outfitted for the roller derby given all of the padding he has affixed to his elbows and knees. But as Cleveland has seen with players like Anderson Varejao, all of the medicine and mechanics in the world can only do so much. All to often, fans tend to see players like LeBron James and assume that his ability to take hits and rarely miss games is the rule when it is undoubtedly the exception. For starters, James is 6-feet-8-inches and 250 pounds of chiseled flesh; comparing him to a point guard is superfluous at best. James’ teammate in Wade had several seasons cut short due to contact-related injuries — it was not all that long ago when the now-defunct Converse made a campaign over the spills Wade had taken. Chris Paul played in just 64 games during his sophomore season; he played in just 45 in 2009-10. The last two point guards to be selected No. 1 overall, John Wall and Derek Rose, have both missed considerable time. Rose provides support for the argument that even the most muscular of players can fall victim to injury.

This all said, while Irving’s injuries can be classified as “legitimate,”  fans in Cleveland have a legitimate right to be concerned. Their star player, who prides himself on getting to the hoop with ease — either converting a highlight-ready lay-up or getting to the free throw line and earning his points the old-fashioned way — will continue to be knicked up until he can add weight. The team already has plans for Irving to spend considerable time in the weight room this coming off season — he’s already pretty good at the whole “basketball” thing; it’s now up to him to ensure his body can carry him through an entire career of playing.

The Nike campaign dictates to us that Kyrie Never Stops. If the point guard will not change the way he plays, he will undoubtedly have to change the body he is playing in. His future depends on it.

Just as fans in Cleveland hold their breath every time a star player puts himself in harm’s way, the frequency of doing so will just increase once Irving is able to play again. It is safe to assume that Iriving may have been able to add more than the five pounds he did this past offseason if not for the fluke broken hand that forced him to take considerable time off. He has missed 29 of 129 games since being drafted by the Cavs. The team is 8-21 without him, including 4-10 this season. It remains highly unlikely that fans will get to see No. 2 on the floor again before the 2012-13 regular season comes to an end. All they can hope for is that the next time he’s standing on a make-shift riser, his shoulders are broader and his frame that much more ready to sustain the next collision.

(Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

  • boomhauertjs

    The Cavs have a history of injury-prone stars back to AC and including Price, Daugherty, Z (early years), and now Kyrie. LeBron was the exception.

  • http://twitter.com/WayneEmbrysKids WayneEmbrysKids

    Z overcame his injury issues and played more games than any Cavalier.

  • Harv 21

    Don’t see how a layer of weight room muscle will make him less susceptible to fractured fingers, toes, hands or nose, or a concussion. Certainly increased muscle mass and flexibility work might make it less likely he’ll sustain a joint injury, but some athletes, work-out warriors or not, are just more fragile.

    If he’s that fragile guy I’ll take it. Better to have transcendent Kyrie for 60 games/season than a good Felton, Devin Harris or Andre Miller for 80.

  • Ritz

    I hate the term ‘injury prone’

    Is Kyrie’s skull significantly weaker than others, thus the concussion? Are the tendons in his shoulder weaker than others? The bones in his fingers?

    No – most likely its just chance that he has had these injuries. Simply by chance, some players will be injured more often than others. Just like when one flips a coin 10 times, there are times when by chance one will get 7 or 8 heads rather than the expected 5.

    Yes, some players like Oden have structural issues with knees. etc. But to say Kyrie is ‘injury prone’ doesn’t make sense. What exactly does it mean, other than by chance he has had several injuries.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    He’s also still only 20 years old so I don’t think he’s reached his physical maturity either. That being said it wouldn’t hurt him to do many of the other things to improve upon his physical health. 60 games is not acceptable when you are heads and shoulders the best player on your team.

  • Steve

    Health is a skill too, and past injuries are a pretty solid precursor for more. You can hate the term, but the fact that Irving has now gone three years where he tops out at 50 games because of injuries is a big problem. Few guys get healthier as they get older.

  • Ritz

    Explain how health is a skill. And explain how a broken finger is a precursor for a concussion.

  • Harv 21

    oh, I agree he should try to add muscle, if for no other reason than a stronger point guard is better than a weaker one. And agree that can prevent or lessen some injuries. Just don’t think it’s at all relevant to his broken bones and not sure it will keep him healthy. If you have children you see differences from the start: some race full speed into hard things and are impervious, and others require trips to the ER every year just from mild roughhousing. And I don’t think injuries lessen between ages 20 and, say 27. Maybe the opposite, and recovery periods certainly start taking longer.

  • Harv 21

    Z had essentially one injury, one specific area of his body that was rebuilt. Kyrie is becoming the proverbial Mr. Bill.

  • tsm

    Agree. Also, once we become a legitimate contender, he won’t have to play so many minutes/games. With Dion an excellent substitute at the point, no need to burn him out. Keep him healthy for the “real” season – the playoffs.

  • Steve

    As Harv explained above, some people just don’t take well to even a couple knocks here or there.

    And you know you’re not interpreting that second part correctly. Guys who have concussions are more susceptible to another one. Guys with knee or shoulder problems are more likely to see those flare up again.

  • Ritz

    But that is NOT what has happened to Kyrie – his injuries are unrelated to each other and most likely due to chance.

  • mgbode

    i think his injuries are largely due to style of play and position. you have to account some for his body type as well.

  • Ritz

    I would agree style of play is a part of it – but body type? Not buying it.

    Plenty of well-built guys get hurt a lot while smaller or lanky guys stay healthy. I am willing to bet that muscle mass is not a very good predictor of injuries – could be wrong but I just don’t see it. People like to make patterns when none exist (i.e. a player with multiple injuries MUST be fragile) when the more likely explication is simple chance.

  • Steve

    That’s not what’s happened to Kyrie – yet. And there are due to chance, the problem is that not everybody’s odds are equal.

  • Steve

    “I am willing to bet that muscle mass is not a very good predictor of
    injuries – could be wrong but I just don’t see it. People like to make
    patterns when none exist (i.e. a player with multiple injuries MUST be
    fragile)”

    These don’t fit together. Sure, some smaller guys might stay healthy and some big guys might be injury prone. But injury prone guys are still injury prone.

  • Ritz

    But what exactly makes someone injury prone? Multiple injuries does not make one injury prone – to be ‘injury prone’ there must be some underlying factor that makes it so.

  • Steve

    That’s not how the body works though. There doesn’t have to be an easily observable factor for a guy to avoid injuries (Lebron), or have a high pain tolerance/quicker recovery times (Kobe).

  • mgbode

    guys who are stout tend to not get injured as easily.

  • Steve

    They tend to be able to take a little more of the on-court “punishment” but that extra weight can put a lot of stress on their legs.

  • Ritz

    So there is some hidden factor? Like what? Its gotta be something if not chance…

  • Ritz

    Since when?

  • Steve

    I like the skepticism, and the acknowledgement that chance plays a role, but there’s a lot about each person that we just don’t fully understand on an individual level – why one person can fight off a disease better than another. We’ve seen things like MLB starters passing an injury nexus that it’s just random chance