Kyrie Irving has an opportunity to compete for All-NBA honors in 2013-14.
After emerging as the sixth-youngest All-Star in league history last season, the 22.5 points and 5.9 assists he averaged for the Cleveland Cavaliers project to only improve with the talent now surrounding him.
The additions of Jarrett Jack, Anthony Bennett, and Andrew Bynum, along with the return of Anderson Varejao, will help to increase the floor spacing Irving will now have to work with offensively. Equipped with the NBA's best handle, along with a propensity to knock down shots from long-range, the possibilities for Irving are endless.
Despite his superstar status, however, the point guard—who won't turn 22 until March—still has room to develop. In particular, Irving can make his biggest strides during training camp by working on the following three areas of his game that will help him and his team achieve their goal of reaching the postseason.
1. Improvement as an On-the-Ball Defender
The Cleveland Cavaliers ranked last in the NBA defensively by allowing an opponent field goal percentage of 47.6 last season. As a collective unit, they desperately lacked an identity and focus on that side of the ball, which ultimately led to the hiring of Mike Brown this summer.
Blaming any one player for all that ailed the Cavaliers defensively would be extremely short-sighted. But at the same time, it will also be imperative for Kyrie Irving to improve himself as an individual defender in order for Brown to build a defensive-minded team moving forward.
While Irving capitalized on his speed and athleticism to average a respectable 1.5 steals per game, he struggled far too often as an on-the-ball defender. These inefficiencies were created by his stance, close-out and overall approach defensively, as evidenced by plays like this against the Charlotte Bobcats:
In the pick-and-roll situation, Irving also failed at times to communicate with his bigs and create the space needed to hedge and recover:
According 82games.com, Irving helped allow opposing point guards to shoot a higher field-goal percentage per 48 minutes than the 50.3 percent he posted himself. He also averaged less turnovers, more assists and a highly effective 21.4 points per night.
Here's a look at the stats being referred to above:
These issues are easily correctable for Irving and begin with a focus on aligning himself in proper position defensively on a more consistent basis. From there, his overall athleticism will be able to take over, helping Irving become a competent defender and complete superstar in 2013-14.
2. Create More Corner-Three Opportunities by Moving Without the Ball
Kyrie Irving connected on 109 of the 279 three-pointers he attempted in 2012-13. While shooting an efficient percentage of 39.4 overall, the majority of those makes came from the top-of-the-key and wing areas.
The three-point zone Irving failed to maximize, however, was in the corner. From both the right and left corner combined, Irving attempted only 16 total three-point field-goals—or 5.7 percent of his overall three-point attempts
Some of the reasons for this previously related to the playmakers Irving had around him in Cleveland. The easiest route to a corner three traditionally comes off the catch-and-shoot—an opportunity Irving created for himself on this play by running baseline without the ball to find an opening in the right corner.
With the addition of Jarrett Jack in 2013-14, along with the improvement of second-year guard Dion Waiters, Irving can increase his overall effectiveness by moving without the ball on a more consistent basis in order to find similar opportunities.
3. Facilitating for Others More Often as Defenses Converge
Kyrie Irving tied for 24th in assists among all point guards last season. While he projects to improve as a facilitator in 2013-14 based on the improved talent around him, Irving must also be mindful of those weapons he'll now have at his disposal when defenses converge.
More than he did previously, Irving will have players surrounding him this year that are capable of making plays like this. In the following GIF, Kyrie Irving drives the lane, causing four defenders to collapse on him, which set up a wide-open three-point attempt for Dion Waiters:
If he can continue to find teammates when defenses converges, Irving's assist totals should improve significantly.
Equipped with No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, a healthy Anderson Varejao and the potential presence of Andrew Bynum, Irving could also become even scarier than he already is for opposing defenses. He can truly become a focrce on the pick-and-roll by entering the season with this approach.
Considering what we've seen already from the third-year phenom, expect Irving to make these adjustments successfully during the 2013-14 campaign while simultaneously solidifying his place among the NBA's elite.
*All stats courtesy of NBA.com, unless otherwise noted.