Kyrie Irving is now expected to consistently perform like an NBA All-Star for the first time in his professional career. Heading into the 2013-14 campaign, he will also be expected to lead his Cleveland Cavaliers to the playoffs while increasing his statistical production along the way.
Despite this hype generated by averages of 22.5 points, 5.9 assists and emerging as the sixth-youngest All-Star in league history a season ago, Irving is capable of exceeding all expectations.
By establishing himself as more of a facilitator than people expect, Irving can legitimately enter the All-NBA conversation by season's end while also maximizing the collective talent around him. Under coach Mike Brown, Irving can also exceed all expectations for himself by becoming a complete superstar on both ends of the floor.
After averaging 20.6 points during his first 110 NBA games, it's reasonable to assume the scoring punch will be there again for Irving this time around. How much better he is able to make his teammates, however—along with the impact he is able to make as an individual defender—will be how Irving exceeds the insane hype currently surrounding his game.
Dropping dimes while getting buckets
Kyrie Irving's ability to score from the point guard position will be the primary focus of opposing defenses on a nightly basis. The better he is able to capitalize on that attention by creating easy buckets for his teammates, the more potent his Cavaliers become offensively.
Surrounding Irving now are more weapons than he's ever had before in Cleveland. After missing all but 25 games a season ago, Anderson Varejao is expected to be a significant factor in the pick-and-roll game with Irving. Tristan Thompson will also continue to be a scoring threat when left open around basket, along with Anthony Bennett and a healthy Andrew Bynum.
If Irving is able to capitalize on what the defenses gives him on a nightly basis by maximize the impact of his teammates, he will be on his way to exceeding the hype surrounding his game at the moment.
Increasing Irving's Assists and Profile
To separate himself from the All-Star-caliber point guards and emerge as an All-NBA player, Irving will need to average more than seven assists per game.
He could simply meet expectations by making a return trip to the All-Star Game and averaging numbers similar to the 5.9 dimes he distributed a year ago. To exceed those expectations, however, he will need to enter the conversation with point guards like Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook by season's end.
While each earned All-NBA honors in 2012-13, Paul finished the season with an average of 9.7 assists, Parker averaged 7.6 and Westbrook dished out 7.4. Irving will need to raise his assist total by roughly 1.6 per game to match this level of production.
By accomplishing that much as a true floor general, along with averaging over 20 points for the third straight season, Irving can take a major step toward superstardom.
Becoming A Complete Superstar
Under Mike Brown, Irving has an opportunity to become a complete superstar by maximizing his effort and production defensively. In a conversation with Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes, Irving discussed how he is working to improve on that end of the floor by incorporating Brown's principles:
Just effort. You know, defense is a choice, simply put. Last year and in my first year, I had a lot of offensive burden. Basically, I was saving energy and guys were coming at me, but I was going right back at them. But this year, it’s not about trading buckets; it’s about trying to shut my man down as best as possible—not only for myself, but for my teammates to have a chance to win.
This is the specific attitude and approach that those caught up in the hype surrounding Irving's offensive brilliance aren't necessarily counting on. It's also the specific mentality that can help a prolific talent establish himself as an undeniable superstar.
Numbers To Exceed The Hype
From a quantifiable standpoint, statistical averages of 24 points and seven assists would begin to exceed the hype and expectations for Irving this year.
If he can couple those totals with shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range and improving from the 45.2 percent he shot from the floor overall a season ago, his individual case is only strengthened.
But where he can exceed all expectations is by improving his game in ways that help his team win on a more consistent basis. If Irving becomes the driving force for a Cavs team that wins enough to finish better than the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, for example, he will have far exceeded the hype.
Averaging 24 points and seven assists on a team that finishes in the lottery again, for a comparison, wouldn't necessarily accomplish as much.
If Irving's team success is supported by an improved defensive effort, however, and highlighted by his continued brilliance when the ball is in his hands, he will begin to redefine expectations for years to come.