Can the Cleveland Cavaliers Build a Title Contender Around Kyrie Irving?

Brendan BowersContributor IIMarch 21, 2017

January 11, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center.  Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Isiah Thomas is the last point guard to win an NBA championship while leading his team in scoring. Thomas accomplished that feat as a member of the Detroit Pistons way back in 1990. 

While the Cleveland Cavaliers are at least two seasons away from truly contending for a championship, Kyrie Irving could be the next point guard to accomplish what Thomas did before him.

After emerging as an All-Star in only his second season, Irving has already proved to be an elite offensive weapon. The 22.5 points and 5.9 assists he averaged during the 2012-13 campaign only project to improve in year three.

As a player who expects to earn All-NBA consideration as a result, Irving is certainly capable of being the leading force on a championship-caliber team. This season, more than simply contending for a playoff berth, the goal in Cleveland will be to identify the specific pieces necessary to support Irving's brilliance long term. 

Along with assembling the proper pieces to best maximize Irving's unique skill set, the Cavaliers must eventually identify a second star of the future. Maybe that player is on the roster in Cleveland already, and maybe he's not.

The next step for the Irving and the Cavaliers is to find out. 

Beyond identifying that second star, the blueprint for winning in Cleveland also includes the development of a defensive identity. Mike Brown was brought in to do exactly that, and Irving will need his teammates to eventually excel on that side of the ball.

If the proper mix of talent offensively can be combined with a collective dedication to defense, however, there is no reason that Irving cannot eventually become the centerpiece of championship success.  


NBA Championships Are Won with Superstars

Jul 25, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; USA White Team forward Kyrie Irving looks into the crowd from the bench during the 2013 USA Basketball Showcase at the Thomas and Mack Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

A superstar point guard has not won an NBA championship for nearly 25 years. At the same time, every championship team since the 2003-04 Pistons has been blessed with superstar talent. 

Kyrie Irving has already emerged as a top-20 player entering his third season. He could finish the 2013-14 campaign ranked even higher than that. 

What makes the 21-year-old point guard unique is that he entered the league equipped with an ability to knock down shots consistently from the perimeter. That's rare in terms of the elite point guards who have entered the league over the last decade.

Irving has shot 39.4 percent from three-point range for his career and should improve on that number with the upgrade in talent around him. 

Combined with Irving's ability from long range is also what I consider the best handle in the league right now. While forcing defenses out to contest his jumper, Irving has the skill set to move past any defender.

If the proper weapons are placed around him, Irving's playmaking prowess could soar to new heights over the next couple of seasons.  


Assembling the Ideal Mix of Talent

October 23, 2012; Cleveland, OH USA: Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) and guard Dion Waiters shake hands during a preseason game against the Indiana Pacers at Quicken Loans Arena.  Mandatory Credit: Eric P. Mull-USPRESSWIRE
Eric P. Mull-USA TODAY Sports

Irving's ability to score off the catch-and-shoot, combined with his work as a facilitator, will ultimately require a backcourt mate with a similar skill set. 

In Dion Waiters, along with the newly acquired Jarrett Jack, the Cavaliers will feature two other guards who fit this description. While Waiters will need to improve his shot selection and consistency, he has the potential to become an ideal fit alongside Irving. 

To further maximize the talents of their superstar point guard, the Cavs will need to develop a consistent threat on the interior who is capable of scoring at least 15 points on a nightly basis. If rookie Anthony Bennett could do that, or even a healthy Andrew Bynum, defenses will not be allowed to fully extend and overplay Irving on the perimeter. 

By surrounding him with these pieces, the spacing Irving will have to operate will be too much for the opposition to defend. 


Identifying a Second Star

GREENBURGH, NY - AUGUST 06:  Anthony Bennett #15 of the Cleveland Cavaliers poses for a portrait during the 2013 NBA rookie photo shoot at the MSG Training Center on August 6, 2013 in Greenburgh, New York.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and ag
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Waiters could emerge as the second-leading scorer of the future alongside Irving in the Cavaliers backcourt.

After averaging 14.7 points on 41.2 percent shooting as a rookie, it's not inconceivable to project Waiters as a 17-point-per-game scorer moving forward.

If it's not the second-year guard from Syracuse, rookie Anthony Bennett could eventually assume that role on the inside. While it's less likely, the chances also exist for a healthy Andrew Bynum to regain his All-Star form and become a consistent scorer for Cleveland. 

This season, however, along with contending for a playoff berth, the Cavaliers will need to identify if that future star is on this roster or not.

If it turns out he isn't, the current blueprint includes approaching free agency next summer to fill that need in an eventual pursuit of a championship. 


Developing a Supporting Cast Dedicated to Defense

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 13:  Head coach Mike Brown of the Los Angeles Lakers shouts instructions during the game with the Cleveland Cavaliers at Staples Center on January 13, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 97-92.  NOTE TO USER: User exp
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Not every player on a championship team is required to averaged 18 points per night. For the Cavaliers, Irving will carry the scoring load over the next three seasons. 

But while the Cavaliers do need a player to emerge as a second option, the rest of the supporting cast will need to excel at their specific role.

For players like Tristan Thompson, the double-double that he'll work to average must be highlighted by extensive work on the defensive end. Under the newly rehired Mike Brown, Thompson could provide that leadership defensively for his teammates to follow. 

Irving will need to improve defensively himself, but he will also need to be surrounded by a collection of role players dedicated to the defensive end in order to eventually win a championship.

If he is, while the talent collectively improves around him offensively, there is no reason why Irving can't eventually deliver a title to Cleveland.