The minds of professional athletes are often wondrous when you can catch them off-guard. Not in that sort of ‘gotcha’ moment, but one where they’re forced to think before replying to a post-game inquiry. We’ve discussed the heady nature of one CJ Miles many times around these parts, but a player like Kyrie Irving is often grouped in with the quiet, canned answer-types. And who can blame anyone for this categorization as the two-time All-Star transforms from perky to lethargic the moment the video cameras and voice recorders turn on.
After the cameras had been turned off and the beat reporters had fled to file their game story before deadline called, I asked Kyrie Irving about playing alongside the Cavaliers’ newly acquired center Spencer Hawes. “Have you ever played with a big man with the same skill set as Spencer?,” I asked. Irving, scooping laundry up off of the floor and placing it into a white, drawstring-topped bag, paused. He did that move that is oh so typical amongst 20-somethings, especially athletes, who are asked a question that wasn’t expected, sucking in a corner of his mouth, squinting one eye and looking off into the distance—deep thought comes packed with physical collateral, after all.
“No,” said Irving, mentally chronicling his entire playing career. “I can’t think of anyone.”
This season alone, Irving has largely been flanked by big men who have had nary a play designed for them. Since Hawes’ arrival in Cleveland, despite his 15 points and 10 rebounds per night, there have been multiple instances where Hawes has set a pick for Irving, subsequently rolling to the top of the key or wing, awaiting a wide-open three-point attempt. This, obviously, is counter to many other big men who roll toward the rim for a higher-percentage finish. Instinct has forced Irving to pass toward the baseline, leading to a turnover.
Irving then dropped his bag, if only for a moment, gearing up to act out point guardian moves, crouching down and using his arms to depict an actual play as he replies further.
“For me, it’s frustrating from a point guard standpoint because I keep messing up our pick-and-roll,” Irving said pointing to imaginary spots on an imaginary basketball court. “He taps himself on the chest saying it’s his fault, but mainly it’s my fault. Getting used to that pick-and-roll with him—I know he’s a pick-and-pop big. We’re going to get on the same page.
“For me, it’s continuing to communicate with him and getting him the ball where he likes it on the perimeter, especially when we’re playing a sideline pick-and-roll. In the middle, we have it down pat, but on the sideline, I’m seeing the pocket pass, he’s popping back. For me, as a point guard, I just have to be better with it and get him the ball where he likes it.”
Irving, fully dressed in street clothes at this point, takes a step back toward his locker as if he’s dodging a defender, and delivers a pass over what would be outstretched arms in the direction of an imaginary Hawes. He shakes his head and sighs, knowing that growth as a player never truly stops. Quite a change from the 21-year-old kid whose post-game physicality stops at nervous ticks like wiping his face and tugging on his earlobes, pocket passes and all.