After the Cleveland Cavaliers played the Utah Jazz last Saturday night, Kyrie Irving had reached 82 career games. When he hit that mark, Irving had officially played a full season worth of NBA games. In that time, he has gone from a rookie with injury concerns to a budding superstar with – well – injury concerns. But even with those injury concerns, it is indisputable that Irving is a special talent.
In 82 career games, Irving’s stat line looks like this: 20.5 points per game, 5.7 assists per game, 39.9 percent shooting from three, 85.8 percent shooting from the free throw line and 46.8 percent shooting from the field – all in 32.5 minutes of action per game. In those 82 games, Irving has scored a whopping 1,661 points – good to put him seventh among active NBA players. Those stats compare well to rookie seasons of Chicago’s Derrick Rose (who averaged 16.8 points), the Clippers’ Chris Paul (who averaged 16.1 points) and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (who averaged 15.3 points). To put it simply, if Kyrie had done this in one season instead of spilt into two, those stats would be the single best season by a rookie point guard in recent memory.
Let’s also remember that Irving has not had the greatest supporting cast around him in his first 82 games. Outside of the oft-injured Anderson Varejao and maybe Dion Waiters and/or Tristan Thompson, there is not one player on the roster who legitimately could ignite fan enthusiasm by themselves. To be clear, you need players like Alonzo Gee and C.J. Miles in order to win, but they are not a Scottie Pippen to Kyrie’s Michael Jordan. The rest of the current roster, featuring the likes of Omri Casspi, Daniel “Boobie” Gibson and Luke Walton, is, to put it gently, subpar. Until recently, that motely crew included the likes of Jeremy Pargo and Donald Sloan. These are not players you can have in your rotation as support to a budding star. Sure a player like Gibson could be a niche filler (and you need players to fill those roles), but he can’t be playing 20 minutes a game at this point. The fact that this has been happening on a regular basis speaks volumes to how special Irving is. Even this early in his NBA career, Irving has shown the rare ability to put a team on his back, and can win games simply by being the best player on the floor. The last Cavalier to have that ability you might ask? It’s none other than LeBron James. And with a better supporting crew, he took the Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals. Sure, the San Antonio Spurs swept the Cavs, and then they never got back, but they did get there. That is an accomplishment in itself.
Moving forward, there are two aspects of Kyrie’s game that need to be improved. First off, as I have posted on Right Down Euclid before, Irving needs to improve on defense. In a division featuring the aforementioned Rose, he’ll need to improve on defense in order to go from being “great” to being “elite.” With the proper work and coaching, there is no doubt in my mind that he can do it. The basic fundamentals are already there – he just needs to keep working at it. Understandably, his offense will dominate the discussion of his game, and that attention is well deserved. This season alone Irving has averaged 23.7 points per game, which is good for seventh in the NBA. But what happens, if at the end of the game, Irving has to defend Rose or Paul or Westbrook? If he cannot defend, then those are going to games the Cavaliers will lose.
Secondly (and this is something that I think will improve), I hope that Irving can shake this injury bug. Injuries like his wrist injury from over the summer were fluky. If this true, then expect Irving to only get better in the near future, and cont. The first 82 games were a joy to watch (and filled with clutch moments), but in the next 82, we could see a real superstar blossom on the shores of Lake Erie.