When Kyrie Irving took home MVP honors at the 2014 All-Star Game, many were surprised.
One player who wasn't shocked at Irving's performance? James himself.
"Kyrie's special. It's just that simple....He has the total package. I've always known that," James said, via the Northeast Ohio Media Group.
Now just five months later, James and Irving are teammates once again.
Both first overall picks by the Cleveland Cavaliers, James in 2003 and Irving in 2011, the two now come together in what is quickly becoming one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
While James will absolutely help Irving with his knowledge, experience and by being really good at basketball, the relationship certainly won't be one-sided.
In his 11-year career, James has never played with a point guard of Irving's ability.
With both committed to the city of Cleveland for the long term, here's how they can truly click on the court together.
What Irving Can Do For James
First, let's go down a little road exploring the point guards that James has been forced to play with during his career.
When James first came into the league as an 18-year-old, 240-pound forward, the Cavs had no one better to run the point and, therefore, thrust him into the job.
The Cavaliers stumbled to a 4-15 start that season, trying so desperately to get LeBron help at the point that they traded Darius Miles to the Portland Trail Blazers for Jeff McInnis.
It got a little better from there on out, but only slightly.
Here's the list of starting point guards James has played alongside in both Cleveland and Miami.
- Jeff McInnis, 2004-05
- Eric Snow, 2005-07
- Larry Hughes, 2007-08
- Mo Williams, 2008-10
- Carlos Arroyo, 2010-11
- Mario Chalmers 2011-14
Needless to say, Irving will be a slight upgrade.
James has never suited up alongside a point guard with Irving's playmaking ability. Williams had been James' best floor general to date, but he was primarily a shooter first and distributor second.
Still, there's a lot to be said for what a good point guard can do.
During the height of Williams' career in 2008-09, his presence clearly helped James. That year, James saw a bump in his field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, assists and plus/minus rating while sharing the court with Williams. James' most noticeable improvement came from the outside, as he shot 35.6 percent from deep with Williams compared to 31.2 percent without him (per NBA.com/stats).
While Irving has primarily been a scoring guard, he's shown the ability to pass when needed. In fact, the Cavs have been at their best when Irving chooses to set up his teammates more and look for his own shot less. In the seven games last season where Irving collected 10 assists or more, the Cavaliers were 5-2.
Irving can take his man off the dribble and wreak havoc on opposing defenses. His presence can draw double-teams in much the way that Dwyane Wade did in four years playing alongside James.
During that time with Wade, James became an excellent catch-and-shoot player. He was getting more and more open looks and doing a better job of converting from the three-point line.
Last season, James finished third in the NBA in three-point catch-and-shoot field-goal percentage (48.8 percent) among players who attempted at least one such shot per game (per NBA.com/stats). His success rate trailed only James Jones (52.0 percent) and Kyle Korver (49.9 percent).
With a player like Irving who's so good at getting into the lane and drawing an extra defender off the wing, James should get plenty of these catch-and-shoot opportunities.
It'd also be nice to see more plays like this:
What James Can Do For Irving
For Irving, he no longer faces the pressure of carrying a franchise by himself.
While he's been slowly surrounded by other high draft picks like Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett, the responsibility of winning games has always fallen squarely on Irving since James' departure in 2010.
Despite his phenomenal talent, Irving's Cavs have yet to win more than 33 games in any of his three seasons. While he's accomplished much on an individual level, team success has yet to follow.
Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal sat down with Irving in an interview last February where the Cavs star opened up emotionally.
Kyrie Irving conceded this season has been more difficult than he imagined, he’s upset so much attention has been placed on his contract and he admitted he doesn’t always have all the answers to what is plaguing the Cavaliers this season.
Enter James, who knows exactly what Irving is going through as the face of a franchise (and being restricted in a Mike Brown offense).
Irving should be more than happy to share the spotlight with James, who now bears the responsibility of leading the Cavs back to relevance.
From an on-court standpoint, Irving will now be able to play more off the ball. A career 37.8 percent shooter from deep, Irving should get more open looks when teams switch to double James.
Given James' scoring ability, this should help Irving commit to distributing the ball more, something he's never completely bought into. His assists per 36 minutes (6.2) and assist percentage (31.6) were both career lows last season while facing the pressure of carrying a playoff-starved team.
When given a better supporting cast, we've seen Irving gladly share the ball. Even in the NBA All-Star Game, Irving registered 14 assists. Not surprisingly, his Eastern Conference squad won, while Irving was named MVP.
Given James' solid frame (6'8", 250 pounds), he and Irving could form a nice pick-and-roll combo as well. No offense to Tristan Thompson, but James is a bit of an upgrade in the pick-and-roll department.
James has already reached out to teammates and mentioned Irving in his Sports Illustrated essay, saying: "I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league."
While James will likely do just that, the relationship the two share will be a symbiotic one.
Irving is the best point guard James has ever played with.
James is the best player on the planet and someone Irving can learn from on and off the court.
Working together should be easy for the two and necessary for the future success of the Cavaliers.
Stats provided by basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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