Top 50: Kyrie Irving, no. 9
Cleveland’s point guard could make an MVP-caliber leap in ’13-14.
by Bonsu Thompson / @DreamzRreal
The only reason Kyrie Andrew Irving is in the top 10 of the SLAM Top 50 is that he’s young—extremely young for such a pedestal. Since bouncing on Coach K after 11 unnecessary games at Duke, the Australia-born, New Jersey-raised point has written himself a storybook beginning to his professional career.
Since Dan Gilbert made him 2011’s No. 1 NBA Draft pick, Irving’s purpose has been to bomb over the LeBron James era in big crimson letters. Breaking his rookie season only to properly introduce himself to the masses during All-Star Weekend, he snatched the Rising Stars Challenge MVP with 9 assists and an unimpeded 34 points (12-13 FG, 8-8 3PT). Shortly thereafter, he locked-up the ROY with first-season averages of 18, 5 and 4.
That math would be trumped the very next season (22, 6 and 4), but not before seizing All-Star Weekend once again to remind the world that he’s not solely the future of the Cavs, but the entire League—Friday, 32 points in the Rising Stars Challenge; Saturday, winning his first Three-Point Contest; Sunday, an impressive 15, 5 and 4 in his first All-Star Game.
It kind of sucks to admit, but the only reason Kyrie Irving is not in the top five of SLAM Top 50 is that he’s too young. Most of the men to be listed ahead of him have accomplished some of his aforementioned benchmarks, yet haven’t cleaned the board like he has in their first two seasons. More importantly, unlike Irving, they’ve all reached their profession’s un-promised land: the Playoffs.
Spring is when the NBA’s best become the best. Last March, Irving became legal enough to sip his daddy’s yac. His age must have some of the upcoming eight players pretty concerned—the younger the All-Star, the more harrowing KI must appear. On purely skill-level, the NBA junior is on par or better than 95 percent of the League; even the Five Percenters have felt the new religion that he is.
In case you haven’t noticed, Cleveland’s premo PG has zero respect for elders wearing Jerry West’s silhouette; even less for peers in his generation. He’s taken Kevin Durant to the brink and ended games in Russell Westbrook’s eye; made Rajon Rondo look as old as Paul Pierce (and PP look Doc Rivers’ age); and Madison Square Garden look like his house (youngest person ever to drop 40 in MSG; second youngest was Michael Jordan back in ’85). There wasn’t much difference between his effectiveness at 2012’s All-Star-stocked pre-Olympic training camp and his age group’s 2013 USA Basketball Showcase. Same Sin City. Same Godly game.
Watching Irving shred defenses is like spectating an assassin at work wearing Batman’s belt—he murders opponents with imagination and variety. From a surface level, you’ll see Irving stacking points with golden handles and boundless range. A tighter view offers the nuances to the killer’s repertoire. Physically, his footwork is comparable to Chris Brown’s; he’s not the fastest, but possesses tricky gears of quickness that offsets every defender on the floor. Mentally, he has a merciless, almost psychotic, will to score. He seeks out trouble like some sort of point guardian angel. When everyone in the stadium thinks the play has exhausted, Rod Strickland’s Godson finds another step toward the rack or swivel for a fade-away. Whistle blows—and one. There’s a reason why many hoop heads didn’t diagnose Irving insane for challenging Black Mamba to a $50,000, one-on-one contest: No one man can stop that much force.
Assessing how Irving scores is one study in amazing, but breaking down where on-court he does the most and least damage is another head trip. That he’s one of the A’s finest finishers and relishes contact as much as he does the long ball are truths. It’s why he produces the least between 5-14 feet from the rim. Imagine when he decides to not only challenge D-Rose for best finger-roll, but teardrop as well. Let’s not even talk about KI’s new commitment to defense—man-to-man defense. That’s just an awaiting nightmare for guards come November. The steals average of 1.3 he sleepwalked through his first two seasons will most likely remain his lowest for the next half decade, at least.
Weighing the little that Irving doesn’t do on the court to the a lot that he hasn’t accomplished yet has the Cavaliers quite excited for tomorrow. They’ve expressed this by producing their finest offseason since drafting Prince James. They realize that once again an MVP is in their house, and refused to repeat the same mistake by only accessorizing his greatness.
Over the summer, the Cavs made Irving the nucleus to his first competitive team: there’s Earl Clark, an excellent role player who has the skill set to be more; a gritty Dion Waiters who will shoot better; Jarrett Jack, a purple-hearted back-up; and some bigs who are young, talented and, well…pretty big. Irving can now prioritize passing to his teammates. He’ll finally be able to evolve into an All-Star point guard instead of just an All-Star guard (and finally surpass a 6 apg average). His success this season, though, will rest on the arthritis of Andrew Bynum. If the two can become the 1-2 punch of Gilbert’s wet dream, then number 2 will enter his first postseason.
Everyone in Cleveland is ready for a return to the Playoffs. From the fans to ownership down to their second No. 1 Draft pick in the last two years, Anthony Bennett, they all can smell it. They’re all aware that Irving’s role in this pilgrimage to the un-promised land will be no less than that of Moses. It’s why no matter what city Irving traveled to last summer, his new and old teammates accepted his challenge to grab a flight, follow their leader and practice like they didn’t know the ledge.
See, what the new and improved Cavs are really ready for is their fans to forget that James flat-left them. And only one caliber of player can help fade the memory of an organization’s first MVP: their next MVP.
|SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.