Chemistry with Teammates: B+
Defensive Presence: B-
Overall Grade: A-
It didn’t take long for Kyrie Irving to shake off his latest layer of rust.
Irving returned Sunday after missing eight games due to a left shoulder strain and finished with 31 points and six assists in just 29 minutes in the Cleveland Cavaliers' 112-92 loss to the New Orleans Hornets.
The star point guard, who just turned 21 two weeks ago, could have been advancing his former Duke Blue Devils into the Final Four. Instead, he provided dazzling form in vain once again, as the Cavaliers lost their eighth consecutive game.
Irving danced off any rot, stepping and twisting through the lane with his usual flair. He drew attention early in the game and did not suffer any noticeable chemistry issues offensively, making easy drop-offs for assists.
While he had just two made free throws and one missed field goal to go with this three first-quarter assists, Irving warmed up and then surged for 15 points and an additional pair of assists in the second quarter.
He easily shook defenders, slipping then slicing with his standard, seemingly effortless moves and ability to find angles. He coasted through the key with no problem, finishing with his customary finesse.
Irving did donate to his point total late, when he added 12 fourth-quarter points after Cleveland already trailed by 17 points with 5:18 remaining. And there were also those moments of heavy breathing that come after prolonged absences.
At times, his reaction—not physical, but mental—seemed slow to the ball, and there were instances of ball-watching on his part. Defensively, meanwhile, he was capable yet not entirely invested it appeared.
But in the return, Irving had no problem initiating contact even though his recent shoulder injury came after he collided into Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas on a baseline drive.
Irving is growing accustomed to making returns from injury. He has lost an additional 11 games with a broken index finger and three games to a hyperextended knee this season.
His young, two-season career has been littered with injuries. Irving missed 14 games his rookie season with a sprained right shoulder, concussion or illness. He then suffered a broken hand at practice this past summer that required surgery.
Despite his good size at 6'3" and 190 pounds, he isn’t an immense physical train and seems susceptible to physical ills.
Still, none of his injuries have been major or limiting for the long term; it’s the knee and ankle injuries that provide reason to worry, and he’s avoided those. The former No. 1 overall pick has also shown an ability to work through injury, as he has played through a fractured jaw bone and also a stomach sickness this season.
His latest performance provided further proof that these minor ailments won't affect him down the road, but Irving still must prove that he can avoid the perpetual hurts that have cost him significant portions of his first two seasons.