The Open Ceiling of Kyrie Irving
The prelude to the NBA season is dominated by anticipation; with no actual basketball in the immediate, fans have no choice but to look forward to seeing reworked contenders in action and anticipate the arrival of fresh faces on the NBA scene. Those dedicated to the plight of a particular team naturally will be drawn to that squad's prospects in the season to come, but otherwise, the NBA fanbase at large will pay the most attention to the shiniest of basketball rosters.
The Cleveland Cavaliers—even with the recently drafted Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller—don't exactly qualify; even in a lackluster Eastern Conference, the Cavs don't appear to have the chops to be in contention for a playoff spot, and from a team standpoint, this outfit isn't terribly remarkable. They struggle on defense and appeared particularly hopeless when Anderson Varejao was out of the lineup last season. They don't have enough shot-creators on offense, a fact that strains everything floating around their single star.
But that single star is an incredible and unique talent—the kind wholly deserving of his selection with the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and worth watching in his element for the sake of his tantalizing potential alone. Kyrie Irving had an absolutely astounding rookie season, and though there undoubtedly will be other incoming rookies who debut to terrific campaigns of their own, there will be something truly special hidden away in Cleveland over the course of the upcoming 82.
Buried in deep, 10-game slates on regular-season Wednesday nights and headline-heavy TNT double-headers will be Irving and the Cavs, still struggling defensively and still lacking the shot-creators they need to build a competent offense. But Irving is poised to be every bit as outstanding in the coming year as he was during the abridged 2011-2012 season we've now packed up and put away. He's so very clearly a star and yet so obviously not yet finished in his evolution as a player, making this an exceptionally exciting time to check in on the exploits of one of the NBA's finest up-and-comers.
We're wowed when watching the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant because they're every bit as impressive as our imaginations could reasonably expect them to be. But with Irving, we hardly have a base line from which to ponder what might be possible. It's unprecedented for a rookie to come into the league and dominate with such poise and control; Irving's ball skills and shooting stroke are marvels all their own, but it was Irving's restraint—even on a roster that required him to do so much—that puts him in such unique standing.
Someday we'll watch in awe of all that Irving has become and accomplished, but until then we have the far more exciting honor of following a standout in development. He's a 20-year-old with the game already in his pocket, and while we'll have the rest of his career to ponder how Irving might stand up to the best of his contemporaries, what systems might provide him with an ideal fit and what kinds of teammates best suit his talents, let's take this particular moment—one without much expectation or pressure at all for Irving's Cavs—to appreciate the unparalleled drama of an elite talent on the rise.
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