Get ready to see a lot of Kyrie Irving during the 2013-14 season.
Everywhere you look, the young point guard will be heavily featured as he attempts to steer his Cleveland Cavaliers into the postseason for the first time since LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach. He'll be shown to you through plenty of highlights, some nationally televised games and commercials that are featured both on air and on YouTube.
And it'll be wonderful.
After all, this season is the start of Irving's year. LeBron, Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose might have dominated headlines going into the season, but that doesn't mean they'll completely overshadow this particular point guard.
He won't let them.
The Narrative: Young Studs Get Love
Let's play a game. Which player are you more excited about?
Player A averaged 20 points and 10 assists per game on 50 percent shooting over the course of a season. Player B averaged identical numbers.
There isn't much of a difference, right? Duh, since there literally isn't a difference.
But now I'll go ahead and tell you that while Player A is only 21 years old, Player B is a relatively ancient 27. All of a sudden, Player A seems much more exciting.
When watching sports, we inherently operate under age-induced biases. Young players are the ones who capture our attention because they're typically brimming over with untapped potential. They have more of their career left to enjoy, and their ceilings haven't been reached yet.
Such is the case with Irving.
Part of his appeal stems from the fact that he turned 21 years old in March and has well over a decade left before he enters into the inevitable decline at the end of his basketball career. We can't even imagine that happening yet because, let's be honest, none of us want to think about what the world is going to be like in 2023 and beyond.
At 21, most young men are just figuring out their direction in life. Some are finishing up their education or getting ready to go to graduate school, while others are attempting to find a steady job and eventually move out of their parents' basement.
Irving has already made an All-Star team, and he now has the ability to assert himself as a de facto top-10 player in the NBA. It's a status that ESPN's NBA Rank thinks he's already achieved, as the panel predicted that he'd finish the season as the No. 8 player in the league.
That's a bit too high.
In my Top 100, I had Irving ranked at No. 17, and he can move up into the top 10 if he makes all the right improvements. But still, that's a rather impressive spot for a 21-year-old point guard with only two years of injury-riddled experience at the professional level.
Because of that, we can't help but pin our hopes on Irving. We want him to be the next challenger to LeBron James' throne because—and let's be honest here—complacency is never too much fun.
So. Much. Offense.
Offense is just naturally more fun to watch than defense. There's a reason that we see offensive highlights popping up all over YouTube and SportsCenter, but if you want to find a defensive play that isn't a fancy steal or jaw-dropping block, you're basically out of luck.
Fortunately, Irving is pretty damn good at this whole offense thing.
How sickeningly entertaining is that countdown?
Even after just two seasons in the NBA, Irving has the best handles in basketball. Forget about Jamal Crawford. Don't worry about Nate Robinson and Chris Paul. They all pale in comparison to this 21-year-old point guard.
But on top of that, his body control is just ridiculous.
Irving is a master of getting through gaps in the defense, holes that not even Houdini could find if he were trying to escape a trap by arriving at the basket. His spins, shakes and shimmies come so naturally, even while the ball is acting like a yo-yo.
And as for his finishing, that's impressive as well.
Irving knows which foot to use and routinely goes off the wrong one in order to confuse the defense. He might not create posters, but he still puts together highlights around the basket.
As a second-year player, Irving averaged 22.5 points and 5.9 assists per game while shooting 45.2 percent from the field, 39.1 percent from beyond the three-point arc and 85.5 percent at the charity stripe. For a No. 1 option without too much lineup protection, those are sensational numbers.
Hell, those are sensational numbers for anyone. But they'll be rather lackluster compared to what Irving does in the future.
C.J. Miles, who plays with Irving now and used to line up next to Deron Williams, sees some similarities between the two All-Star floor generals. He said as much to NBA.com's Steve Aschburner, saying, "I saw Deron at the same stage where Kyrie is now, and he's just about to really explode into just really learning to take over. [Where] he can do what he wants to on a basketball court. It's scary when a guy reaches that."
Irving is impressive enough already that he's a top-notch fantasy basketball option, a (sort of) challenger to Carmelo Anthony's scoring crown and a mainstay in any stream of highlights you might happen across.
And he's "about to really explode." Anyone else excited about that?
However, Irving isn't going to be content remaining an offensive dynamo who doesn't do much else during his third professional season.
If the young point guard is to take the proverbial next step, it's going to be on the defensive end of the court, where he's struggled to make an impact. Well, he has made an impact, I suppose. Just not a positive one.
Could the turning point have come during a preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks?
According to the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd:
Irving finally gave Brown the proof he wanted so desperately to see. He buzzed around the court contesting three shots on one possession and he fought a little harder to get through screens. Byron Scott asked him to do those things for two years, but Irving finally delivered.
Lloyd goes on to report that Mike Brown, Cleveland's head coach, was so impressed by Irving's efforts that he played a clip of his defense during halftime and had nothing but compliments for his starting point guard's level of effort.
Did you grow up hearing your parents tell you that actions spoke louder than words? Were you rebuffed every time you'd say that you'd improve on something you did wrong and then told instead that you needed to show that improvement?
Apparently that message worked for Irving, because he spent the entire preseason showing that he could commit to the defensive end. Plus, he had the following to say when he spoke with B/R's Grant Hughes about how to improve his play:
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.
Now that he's more accustomed to the rigors of an NBA season and has talented offensive players around him to alleviate some of the immense scoring pressure, he can become more of a two-way player.
While speaking with Hughes, Irving also revealed his all-time starting five: Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.
The last four are some of the greatest defensive players of all time, and The Big O was no slouch on the less glamorous end. A student of the game beyond his years, Irving surely realizes that if he someday wants to end up in a young point guard's top five, he's going to have to commit entirely to both sides of the court.
That begins now.
We're talking about "the year of Kyrie Irving," and that involves significantly more than his play on the hardwood.
There are better players than Irving who don't get as much positive attention. Do you hear about Tony Parker as much? How about Dwight Howard? Has he been receiving as much positive press lately?
Ultimate success stems from both on-court prowess and off-court attention, which bodes well for this former Blue Devil. At this point, it already seems like everyone is in love with Irving.
Sure, there are a select few who cry that he's overrated and overhyped. But who doesn't draw that type of crowd in today's era of 24/7 coverage and social-media exploits? Just about every player in the NBA—even bench warmers who few have heard of—is called overrated at some point.
Irving is the fresh face who's never done anything wrong. He's the next big hope at point guard, and he's going to be a superstar for a long time. He's likable, and he markets himself well.
You can see the third segment of Irving's "Uncle Drew" series up above, and at the time of this article's publication, the video already had well over two million views. In just over two days. It was greeted with tremendous fanfare and anticipation, simply because everyone wanted to see what Irving would do next.
As the Cleveland Cavaliers grow even more competitive—and they will as they push for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference—Irving's national exposure will grow as well. We'll start seeing him during every commercial break, just as we do now with Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and LeBron James.
But it won't be a tired act. It will be a fresh start, as it marks the true arrival of the Association's youngest bona fide superstar.
The year of Kyrie Irving is only beginning, and it's got a lot of excitement in store for us. Here's hoping it's the first of many.
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