In order to accomplish both, Irving must be consistently brilliant on the offensive end while improving his effort defensively under Mike Brown. Throughout the course of the year, Irving must also prove his ability to play through the bumps and bruises that may have sidelined him in the past.
This season specifically, Irving will have an opportunity to establish himself as one of the league's truly elite superstars by building upon the 20.6 points and 5.7 assists he's averaged in his first 110 career games.
Biggest Narrative Surrounding Kyrie Irving
How dominant is Kyrie Irving capable of becoming when surrounded by a competent group of NBA-caliber weapons? After playing alongside the likes of Semih Erden, Ryan Hollins and an aging Luke Walton during his tenure in Cleveland, Irving will have an opportunity to answer that question in 2013-14.
Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller will each be a year older and improved by the experience they gained playing next to Irving a season ago. Anderson Varejao's return from a serious blood clot will be significant for Irving and the Cavaliers as well because of the possibilities he'll now provide in the pick-and-roll game along with his impact around the basket.
The additions of rookie Anthony Bennett and free-agent veterans Earl Clark and Jarrett Jack help round out the best rotation Irving has been a part of with the Cavaliers to date. The prospects of what a healthy Andrew Bynum can provide only adds to that potential.
Despite the improved talent, however, this group must develop a dedication to the defensive end that it simply didn't have over the last two seasons.
After his Cavaliers finished with an NBA-worst opponent field-goal percentage of 47.6 in 2012-13, Irving will be called upon as an instrumental part of changing the defensive culture in Cleveland.
If he can provide consistent effort and leadership on the defensive end, after helping to allow opposing point guards an average of 21.3 points and 9.1 assists per 48 minutes according to 82games.com, the Cavaliers should emerge as a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
What's on the line for Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers?
After finishing in the draft lottery during each of the last three seasons, the Cleveland Cavaliers must begin to collectively demonstrate a return on their investments in 2013-14. They will need to prove to their fanbase, along with the rest of the league, that the Cavs are an organization that is passionately pursuing the goal of winning basketball games.
Irving, meanwhile, from an individual standpoint, must also begin to prove he is a superstar who is capable of leading his team to victories on a consistent basis.
If he and his Cavaliers are not able to accomplish as much, by falling short of a playoff berth, Irving's pursuit of NBA superstardom becomes that much more difficult.
Scouting Report for 2013-14 Season
Kyrie Irving has redefined the term "ball on a string" during his short time in the league. While probing defenses with the dribble, he has consistently manufactured yo-yo like bounces off the deck from angles we've rarely seen before.
Irving's handle has become the tightest in the NBA as a result and his crossover move is without rival. Just ask Monta Ellis, who tried defending Irving's signature move on this play last season.
When I spoke with Irving about the evolution of his crossover, he told me that he built the move by combining the crossovers of Allen Iverson, Tim Hardaway and Kevin Johnson.
As his game has continued to grow, Irving's become increasingly able to use that move to create a variety of scoring opportunities for his teammates in addition to converting on his own attempts at the rim. Like he did on this feed to Tyler Zeller, Irving is able to move past his defender while finding open teammates at the basket when help converges on his drive—something we can expect more of this year with an improved roster in Cleveland.
What really makes Irving's offensive game so potent is how efficiently he uses that handle to attack. Irving finished fourth among all qualified point guards last season in terms of Player Efficiency Rating with a PER of 21.51. While he still has considerable ground to cover in order to match LeBron James' league lead in PER of 31.67, Irving's numbers stack up favorably compared to the league average of 15.
During the 2012-13 campaign, Irving also connected on 109 of the 279 three-point field goals he attempted. His ability to beat opponents off the bounce as well as with the jumper will make him nearly unguardable in one-on-one situations this year.
The best approach to defending Irving is to send multiple layers of help at him through a collective effort to wall off the paint and basket. Despite Irving's ability to knock down shots from the outside, he can be contested reasonably well with a solid hand from one defender on a jump shot.
There is not one defender on the planet who can keep Irving out of the paint by himself, however, and once Irving gets there he's devastating. This example from the Cavaliers preseason game against the Philadelphia 76ers serves to illustrate as much.
Another way teams will want to test Irving this year, however, is by forcing him to defend consistently on the other end of the floor. The more teams can force Irving to demonstrate his improvements as a defender under Mike Brown, the better their chances of slowing him down over 48 minutes become.
Even though Irving will remain the primary focal point of opposing defenses throughout the 2013-14 campaign, while being asked to also evolve as a defender himself, expect his numbers to improve to around 24.5 points and 7.1 assists.
While I don't see his overall field-goal percentage moving much past the 45.2 percent mark he shot in 2012-13, I do expect Irving to shoot slightly better from long range based on the increased spacing he'll now be afforded. After flirting with the 40 percent plateau during his first two seasons, Irving will exceed that number by shooting 41 percent or better from three-point territory this year.
In doing so, he will earn a return trip to the All-Star game while helping Cleveland secure the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. Though Irving's efforts won't be good enough to get his Cavaliers out of the first round, his work will begin to cement a winning culture in Cleveland for years to come.
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