Kyrie Irving Hopes to Return Cavs to Postseason
When the Cleveland Cavaliers played the Chicago Bulls in a preseason game this past weekend, Kyrie Irving finished the night with zero assists in 26 minutes of action. You know how many times he’s done that over the course of his short NBA career? Zero. Zero times.
But Irving isn’t going to be making a habit of such goose eggs. In fact, after winning Rookie of the Year last season, Irving is looking to come in and take his game to another level, and he uses two words to describe how he’s going to do that: patience and efficiency.
“I just want to come in everyday and try and make everybody better. You have to take the game that much more serious,” Irving said. “Going forward, especially going into my sophomore year, I just need to slow my game down and just be more efficient.”
For an upper-echelon point guard, pacing and intelligence on that end of the floor can mean everything when it comes running a well-greased offense.
“Tonight, I looked at the stat line and I had no assists. It was crazy,” Irving said after the preseason game against Chicago. “We definitely have to get to that second side of the pick-and-roll where I can make my teammates better… we’ve just got to continue getting better at that.”
One thing that’s definitely helping this year is a full autumn’s worth of training camp—Irving’s first as a pro since last year’s preseason was cut short by the lockout.
“Last year we were just thrown into the fire right away. We didn’t have a true training camp, and this year everybody has a better chance of getting into shape going into the season,” Irving said. “You definitely get a better feeling of familiarity with each other and just get some continuity on the offensive and defensive end.”
Training camp isn’t the only growth Irving has undergone since last season ended, however. He also spent some time in Las Vegas over the summer with the USA Select Team training with other All-Stars and All-Stars-to-be. After that, he was supposed to remain in Vegas to play with Cleveland’s Summer League team, so his time there would have been even more productive had he not lashed out at a wall in frustration during a practice, injuring his hand bad enough to keep him from pairing with rookie Dion Waiters in league competition. Despite the setback, Irving was still able to pick a few things up while in Nevada.
“I learned how to be a better pro,” Irving said of the Team USA experience. “We were playing with All-Stars, and going up against them every day was definitely a challenge for me. I enjoyed it and took a lot from the All-Stars there.”
What else did he learn in Vegas?
“Just stay away from the wall,” Irving laughed. “Be more conscientious of my health.”
It’s easy to laugh now, but this season should still prove to be a challenging one even with some added talent and another year of growth from Irving. There’s a lot of youth on this team—and there could be even more should Anderson Varejao end up getting traded at some point as expected—so expectations for the Cavs are still understandably tempered.
But not for Irving. He’s setting his sights high, even though he’s still only 20 years old.
“Realistically, our goal is to make the playoffs,” Irving said. “That’s our number one goal right now—just get more wins and continue to get better. We’re a young team in this league and young teams really don’t get a lot, so we have to fight every single night. Going forward, we’ve just got to continue to get better every day in practice and push each other.”
No matter how hard the Cavs scrap and claw on a nightly basis, this year still could be a long one for Cleveland, but any time an organization has a kid this good on its roster, it’s reasonable to expect at least a small uptick in wins. The Irving-led Cavaliers are on the right track, but how quickly they’re able to get back up to speed will depend largely on how quickly Irving turns into an All-Star.
Honestly, he’s already most of the way there.