The Cleveland Cavaliers finally have some momentum going.
They have rebounded nicely from "The Decision," stringing together a couple of nice drafts, solid free-agent signings and smart contractual moves.
And in a solid albeit not overly tough Central Division, the Cavs have to like where they are sitting.
There is, however, one thing that could derail this bus before it truly gets going: a sophomore slump from talented point guard Kyrie Irving. All of the Cavs hopes and dreams truly begin with Irving. They will only go as far as their point guard will take them.
Why a slump could happen
Kyrie Irving had a few knocks against him when he was drafted No. 1 overall two years ago. First, there were questions about his durability. He played in only 11 regular-season games as a freshman at Duke, and there was a real concern that Irving might not be structurally built for the rigors of the NBA.
Second, Irving doesn't have the freakish athleticism of former No. 1 point guards Derrick Rose and John Wall. There were questions about whether or not Irving really was worth a No. 1 overall selection, and whether or not he would distinguish himself at the next level.
Consider question two answered; the first one, however, is up for grabs.
As a rookie, Irving lived up to the hype that surrounded him in college. He showed exceptional quickness, natural instincts and an ability to score in a number of ways.
His shot was better than expected, and while his assist numbers weren't amazing, he showed that he could certainly create for teammates.
If you talk to Cavs fans, you will hear guarded optimism in their voices. They are excited about the direction of this team, but to a person they will all say that they fear for Irving's durability.
Kyrie definitely played a lot of games (51), but he also missed a lot of games (15). Until Irving can play 82 games in a season, these questions will continue to dog him, and with good reason. If the Cavs are going to do anything this year, Irving will have to play out of his mind.
And this brings me to one of the reasons why Irving could slump this year. This team flat out needs him too much.
The Cavs have some strong pieces. They have the always-tough Anderson Varejao, the improving Tristan Thompson and a couple of underrated small forwards in Alonzo Gee and C.J. Miles. Add rookie Dion Waiters, and this should be a team on the rise, right?
Well, sort of. The Cavs will be a very good defensive team. Up front, at least. Gee, Varejao and Thompson all have the makings of first-team defenders, but the backcourt is going to be woefully small. Waiters has a good frame, but he is very undersized as a shooting guard.
That wouldn't be a problem if the point guard was the size of Jason Kidd. But Irving himself is small, and this could be trouble against some teams.
If Waiters plays as poor defensively as he did as a freshman, then Irving could be spending too much energy on the defensive side of the ball.
That brings me to my point. Offensively, this team is going to have some rough nights. The frontcourt will not be much help scoring, leaving the bulk of the load to be carried by Waiters and Irving. And Waiters is completely unproven at this level.
If Waiters struggles offensively or defensively, Irving may be forced to shoulder too much of the load, and this could stunt his progress as a point guard. Too much pressure has been the undoing of many young point guards in this league.
Why a slump is unlikely
All of the reasons why a slump could happen are the exact reason why a slump is unlikely.
The flip side of having a disproportionate amount of the load on your shoulders is that it looks that much better when you succeed. Irving, if he does well, will probably do very well.
This offense is going to be built similarly to how the Bulls offense is built around Rose. The Cavs simply don't have any other options but to run the offense first and last through Irving. He will bring the ball up, initiate the offense and likely either score or assist on the bulk of the team's hoops.
Irving is going to have to penetrate in order to set up teammates that are offensively challenged. He will need to break down the defense to create easier shots for his bigs.
Sure, Waiters will be called on to penetrate as well, but Irving will have his number called much more simply because he has proven that he can do it.
Penetration will be easier for Irving than it is for Waiters since Kyrie has already shown that he can hit the three-pointer, which forces the defenders to play up on him and give up the lane.
That is also a reason why a slump is unlikely; Irving can beat you in so many ways.
He is quick enough to get to the hoop at will, but he also has the range to hit 40 percent of his threes. If Waiters, Miles or Gee drive to the hoop and get in trouble, they can throw it back to Irving for a triple. Irving will be the perfect safety valve for these slashers.
If things go even somewhat close to plan, Irving will see his points go up to around 22-24 points per game, and his assists go up to around seven or eight. With those numbers, he will become one of the games elite point guards.
Irving impressed quite a few people last year, if for no other reason than he didn't prove to be a ceramic doll. Sure, he missed some games, but he played tough. He truly looks like he has the goods.
With an improved supporting cast, Irving should only continue to get better, and thus avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.
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