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Youngblood musings: A Chat with Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving
by rick olivares pic by mark duncan/AP
Kyrie Irving received a pass from Andrew Bynum. He tried to drive down the baseline but the Los Angeles Clippers’ Willie Green followed him.
He faked a jumpshot but Green didn’t bite.
Irving dribbled once between his legs. Shifted the ball from right to left in a shake and bake move. Dribbled behind his back from left to right then spun around Green. The Clippers’ massive center DeAndre Jordan left Bynum to try and block Irving’s shot.
Only the Cavaliers’ third year point guard was a little more quicksilver quick for a layup.
Another day. Another city.
Irving drove hard down the baseline. The Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony tried to block Irving shot from behind but he missed. Metta World Peace met Irving at the basket but his jump was a second too fast. Bucket.
The Holiday Season has definitely brought some cheer to the Cleveland Cavaliers. After going 4-12 for November, December has mostly chilled the Cavaliers’ foes as they have posted a 4-2 record so far to climb to 9-14.
Around the same time last season, Cleveland was 5-12.
It’s a word that Irving used a lot in his 15-minute interview with Asian journalists.
Of his team’s current record vis-à-vis last season’s pace, the point guard said, “Just continuing to be a consistent team every single night. We’re still young but we’re not using that as an excuse. We’re just continuing to play through one another and trust one another and be a great team. Great teams are consistent every single night and that's what we’re trying to do.”
“I’m just continuing to work hard, not only for myself but for my teammates, trying to be consistent and trying to get as many wins as possible. There’s been an adjustment period but I’m getting used to it and we’re definitely finding some continuity within our organization so it’s good to be playing well right now especially as a team.”
Not since LeBron James was the sheriff in Ohio has a young player given the Cavaliers hope. The former overall number draft pick out of Duke University is currently norming 20.9 points (14th in the league), 3.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 1.0 steals versus 3.1 turnovers per outing. Irving is currently second in the East All-Star Guards voting trailing only the Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade.
The Cavs’ record aside, in a weakened Eastern Conference with only three teams above .500, Cleveland have a strong chance to book a seat to the NBA’s second season for the first time in Irving’s tenure in Ohio. Underscored the NBA’s current player of the week (along with the Portland Trailblazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge).
“At this point in the season, it’s still the beginning of the season, a lot can change. Everybody will probably say we’re underperforming but that’s just the way the game works sometimes. Things aren’t going to always be perfect but all the teams in the East are definitely contending teams and we’re competitive. We’ll see how the record looks once the 82-game season is done.”
Like James before him, Irving is superbly handling the pressure of being handed the role of being the face of the team.
At the start of the season, the Cavs looked good as they selected Anthony Bennett, their third number one overall draft pick of the last 10 years (James went tops in 2003 out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School while Irving was first of the 2011 batch).
Bennett, the 6’8” forward out of the University of Nevada Las Vegas has struggled mightily this season. In 19 minutes per game, he has averaged a poor 2.2 points and 1.9 rebounds in 19 matches.
Bennett was supposed to be the key addition to a young Cavs team that would bring them back to prominence. Instead he has ridden the bench for long stretches while looking horribly out of shape.
Irving, however, isn’t about to give up on his teammate and fellow number draft pick. He constantly offers the Canadian a heaping dose of advice: “I just tell him to keep his head up and continue to work hard. As a rookie, there’s definitely a learning curve you have to go through and he’s going through that right now and we just need him to keep his confidence and be in the circle with our team. That’s all we want him to do, to continue to learn, get in the game and play like himself.”
Youngblood teammates in the NBA aren’t the only ones Irving is considering mentoring. Irving, an Australian-American (he was born in Melbourne as his father, Drederick, a Boston University alum, played pro hoops in Australia), said that he is willing to help young Aussie phenom, 6’6” Dante Exum who projected to join the next NBA draft. “I’m always willing to help any young players but at the same time, there are things that you have to go through on your own that I went through on my own, steps I had to take in order to be where I am. At the same time, I’m still a young player figuring things out as well. If this was my eighth and ninth year, I would probably have a lot more information to give him but there are some things you have to figure out on your own coming in as a young guy in the league.”
With an average age of 24, the Cavaliers are the NBA’s youngest team. The return of Mike Brown to the sidelines also means a period of adjustment to a new system of play. But Irving says there is no room for anyone to make excuses. “Right now, I’m just trying to win as many games as possible and get to the next step. I haven’t been to the playoffs in my three years so that’s definitely the main goal and I know for sure that we have the team this year to do it and every day is a step towards making that goal.”