Kyrie Irving, the best rookie point guard since Chris Paul, is a star already, and superstardom feels oh-so-imminent.
With his incredible handles and pure shooting, Irving is skilled enough to where the Cleveland Cavaliers should be back on national television sooner and more often than you think.
Though a well-kept Ohio secret for a while, Irving carved out something of a public persona with his viral "Uncle Drew" Pepsi Max ad. I talked to him from the set of a sequel commercial, this one involving Bill Russell.
Bleacher Report: Do you think that Bill Russell and the Uncle Drew character are in any way alike?
B/R: If I had to name one skill to differentiate yourself from other players, that would be your handle. I'm wondering, is that something you had to work on growing up in any specific way, or was that just God-given?
KI: It basically came from just watching and observing a lot of players and videos. Growing up, I was a typical high school kid when YouTube first came out, and I was just watching a whole lot of videos of guys in the league I'm playing with now, guys that aren't in the league, and guys that came before me, just watching the moves that they do, and going out in my backyard and trying them. I did it almost every single day. And I didn't do any crazy dribbling drills or any two-ball dribbling drills. I'm really not good at two-ball dribbling. Nah, never did that. I just went out and tried the moves that I saw.
B/R: Was Jason Kidd a big guy for you? I've read that you were a Nets fan growing up.
KI: Yeah. Absolutely. I watched him a lot. My dad took us to one of the Finals games when Coach (Byron) Scott was actually coaching. We sat up in the nosebleed seats.
B/R: I've noticed that you often split the trap on pick-and-rolls—you're really good at doing that. Is that more about having the courage to do it, or is that more about reading the situation correctly, or is that more about having the skills to do it?
KI: Feel like it's a feel, and also, you have to have the skill. Sometimes you can get away with splitting double-teams. When I see a double-team, I'll always just go lower than the defender's hands, and it's just a skill that I have. It's basically pretty instinctive.
B/R: You get to the rim a lot, and you don't get blocked often. It seems like you're really good at protecting the basketball. What do you work on to not get blocked?
KI: Just seeing how the defense is playing. When I was younger, when I was going into my high school year and my dad showed me showing the ball and hiding it and putting in the basket. I was practicing that. I kind of perfected that move. So now I just use the basket as protection and just read the defense.
B/R: You talked about how you don't like guarding Steve Nash so much because he does so many pick-and-rolls. Is there anything you're looking to do to improve your pick-and-roll defense going forward into next season?
KI: Oh yeah, just being up on the ball more. Last year, I felt like I wasn't in the best shape I definitely wanted to be in, so this year, I definitely feel like I'm in a good place health wise and shape wise. So now, I can be up on the ball more, and just, stick to my defensive principles that I came in knowing.
B/R: I've heard that LeBron James has served as something of a mentor to you. Has he continued to reach out to you?
KI: We don't talk as much as we did last year, based on, he was in China, and he was doing his thing this summer with Team USA. I haven't talked to him in a while, but, always, I look up to him as a friend of mine that I can always count on to give me great advice, because he's been through the things I'm going through. I just try to reach out to him and check up on him every once in a while.
B/R: Do you think the Cavs are a playoff team, because most projections don't have them there? On the other hand, the East is up for grabs. After the Heat, there's a lot of flux.
KI: Yeah. Absolutely. If we have the consistency we need every single game, and get the consistency we need from everybody. I mean, it's definitely hard to win in this league these days; there's a lot of challenges on every team. And like you said, it does fluctuate at the top. We just have to come out and play hard every single night, give it our all, and we'll be fine.
B/R: Do you still believe you would beat Kobe Bryant one-on-one?
KI: (Chuckles) It's funny. It was a joke and then it turned into something serious. I mean, I do have confidence in my abilities. Obviously, he's one of the best players in the game, but I do have confidence in my abilities that I can handle him one-on-one.
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