Blueprint for Kyrie Irving To Make All-NBA Team During 2013-14 Season
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In only his second season, Irving began to separate himself from his peers at the point guard position while becoming the sixth-youngest All-Star in NBA history. Entering his third year with the Cavs at age 21, Irving must continue that progression in order to establish himself among the league's elite.
While competing with point guards Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker—who were each All-NBA players last season—along with Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Deron Williams, ranking among the top three at the NBA's deepest position will certainly include its challenges.
The blueprint for Irving to make the All-NBA team, however, includes a number of factors very much within his control.
By improving on the defensive end, for example, along with further development as a play-maker—while continuing to do the things that have made his game special—Irving will give himself a chance to become an All-NBA player much sooner than most people expected. when he first broke into the league.
Improve Defensively Under Coach Mike Brown
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Under the direction of coach Byron Scott, the Cleveland Cavaliers demonstrated a lack of organizational emphasis on the defensive end of the floor.
The Cavs ranked last with an opponent field-goal percentage of 47.6 in 2012-13, for example, and Irving didn't help much as an on-ball defender. According to 82games.com, opposing point guards averaged 21.4 points and 9.5 assists on 50.8 percent shooting per-48 minutes last season.
While Irving certainly doesn't need to go as far as becoming the next Tony Allen defensively, he will need to take strides to improve that aspect of his game in order to establish himself as an All-NBA player.
To help Irving that progression is newly re-hired coach Mike Brown.
When Brown first arrived in Cleveland, during the 2005-06 campaign, LeBron James was also entering his third NBA season. Brown helped James develop a foundation he has since used to make the NBA All-Defensive Team five times.
If Irving can also incorporate Brown's principles defensively, his quickness, speed and athleticism could have him trending in a similar direction as a defender.
Develop His Ability to Create Scoring Opportunities for Teammates
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When you're feeding a 33-year-old Luke Walton off the pick-and-roll, the opportunity for an assist isn't as high as it might otherwise be if a healthy Andrew Bynum was on the receiving end of that pass.
Jarrett Jack, Anthony Bennett and an improved Dion Waiters, for example, would also be better options for Irving to accumulate assists than he had at his disposal previously in Cleveland.
Along with the upgrade in talent around Irving on the Cavaliers' roster in 2013-14, however, the young point guard must also place an increased emphasis on becoming more of a facilitator.
The 5.9 assists that Irving averaged last season was a number that ranked 23rd overall among qualified players. In order to earn All-NBA honors, Irving may need to get himself up into the top-10 of that category, where point guards like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker finished the year.
While attempting to average the seven assists per night that will be required to get there, Irving should have some help in terms of increased shot-making across the board from his teammates. Additionally, however, Irving will also need to make the right pass at the right moment on a more consistent basis.
Surpass the 40-Percent Mark from Three-Point Territory
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Irving ranked 11th from long-range among all point guards last season by connecting on 39.1 percent of his three-point field goal attempts for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
As a rookie in 2011-12, Irving shot 39.9 percent from behind the arc.
To establish himself as an All-NBA player in 2013-14, Irving will need to exceed the 40-percent mark from three-point territory for the first time in his career.
While he doesn't necessarily need to surpass fellow point guard Stephen Curry in terms of three-point field-goal efficiency, he will need to become more competitive with the premier shooters at his position.
Curry, for example, connected on 45.3 percent of his three-point field goals last year for the Golden State Warriors. To close that gap, Irving will need to move his efficiency as a marksman into the 41-43 percent range to give himself the best opportunity of earning All-NBA honors.
Consistent Health and Improving Leadership
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After breaking into the NBA as a 19-year-old rookie in 2011-12, Irving was not necessarily required to be a leader for the Cavaliers during his first two seasons.
On the heels of earning an All-Star berth last year, however, Irving's teammates will now look for him to embrace more of a leadership role than he ever has before as a professional.
In order to succeed in this capacity—above anything else—the primary goal Irving must accomplish is to stay healthy and on the court consistently moving forward.
Despite Cleveland playing itself into the lottery over the last two years, Irving missed 15 of 66 games as a rookie before missing 23 last year due to injury. To compete with the likes of Chris Paul and Tony Parker from a leadership perspective, Irving will need play 72-plus games in 2013-14.
Once he's on the floor, Irving's natural development as a player and leader will likely take over in his attempt to push his team toward the postseason.
Continue to Do What Has Always Made Irving Special
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Beyond the statistical improvements required of Irving to play his way onto the All-NBA team, he also must not lose sight of what has already made his game both unique and special.
As an emerging superstar, Irving has consistently demanded the basketball in the critical moment of games and delivered on winning opportunities.
He plays with the confidence of a 10-year vet, which can be both contagious for his teammates and demoralizing for defenders.
Irving must lean on this belief in his ability, specifically, while attempting to increase his scoring average of 22.5 points per game from a season ago. He must also continue to use his jump shot as a weapon along with capitalizing on what I believe is the most effective crossover in the Association.
If Irving is able to let his natural ability take over on a nightly basis, he will inevitably prove his worth among the league's most elite point guards—no matter how deep the position may be in 2013-14.