James had...Larry Hughes.
OK, so players like Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison helped out as well, but James still had to carry a massive load by himself.
Now in his second go-round with Cleveland, it appears James will have his choice of partners to wreak havoc on defenses with. Looking over the next five years, both Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins will be under team control. Irving agreed to a $90 million extension on July 1st while Wiggins just recently signed his rookie deal, via Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal.
Assuming Wiggins stays with the Cavs, James will have two young, athletic teammates in which to run with.
That being said, how will both mesh with James and his style of play? It even took Dwyane Wade and James two years together to finally get their chemistry down and capture a ring.
Looking long-term, will Irving or Wiggins fit in better next to James?
James is extremely versatile on offense and has developed into a serious threat even when he's not dominating the ball.
For example, James finished sixth in the NBA in points per game on drives (6.0) while also ranking fourth in catch-and-shoot three-point percentage (48.8 percent, minimum one per game via NBA.com/stats).
He's certainly adaptable to the players around him, but who would James prefer to play with?
Well, there's certainly the age factor.
James will turn the big 3-0 on Dec. 30 and has logged quite a bit of mileage during his 11-year NBA career.
James has already accumulated nearly 40,000 total minutes, not including his Summer Olympics stints. He's lead the league in regular-season minutes twice and postseason minutes four times.
Because of this, James will likely need a dependable scorer, someone who can create their own shot without relying on him to set them up every time.
This is clearly in Irving's favor. The two-time All-Star has averaged 20.7 points in his first three seasons.
Not only is Irving a proven scorer, but he does so by primarily creating his own shot. Out of his 532 made field goals last season, 69 percent were unassisted.
Wiggins is an excellent athlete who would excel in a transition game alongside James, but he may struggle in the half court.
Nate Duncan of BasketballInsiders.com tells us more:
Another issue is his lack of off-the-dribble game. He doesn’t really create any separation with his dribble moves, possessing little shake and playing very upright. Again, he simply is not a natural when it comes to handling the ball—it often looks like he is just executing his moves in one place without getting anywhere.
While it may take years for Wiggins to develop into a strong create-your-own-shot scorer, Irving is ready to help James carry the offensive load now.
Well, this one may be a bit lopsided.
One of the reasons the Cavs, and likely other teams, preferred Wiggins to Jabari Parker was because of the former's defensive talents.
In his lone season at Kansas, Wiggins finished seventh in the Big 12 in defensive win shares (1.7) and ninth in total steals (41). He also blocked a shot a game.
Wiggins may be 6'8", but his wingspan covers 7'0" of space. His lateral quickness and natural athleticism should allow him to guard up to three positions in the NBA.
Wiggins' size and versatility are key. He can play both shooting guard and small forward. This is important because James has begun to play both forward positions. The Miami Heat used James at power forward 57 percent of the time he was on the court during his four years there. In seven years prior to that with the Cavs, James spent just 11 percent of his time at the 4.
Wherever new coach David Blatt decides to use Wiggins, he should blend in beautifully next to James. Want to play James at small forward? Stick Wiggins at shooting guard. Move James to the 4? Slide Wiggins over to the 3. No problem.
While it may not happen this year, Wiggins has the potential to turn into a lockdown defender. Such a skill would allow James to conserve his body, knowing Wiggins would take responsibility for the opposing team's best offensive player. If playing a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, that could mean the difference between James having to guard Kevin Durant or Anthony Morrow.
Irving, meanwhile, has yet to become even an average defensive point guard.
While he made a slight progression last season under Mike Brown, it's clear that defense will never be Irving's strong suit. According to 82games.com, opposing point guards registered a PER of 17.8 against Irving last season, well above the league average of 15.0. The Cavaliers also allowed 5.7 more points per 100 possessions with Irving on the floor.
While James may be stuck trying to make up for Irving's miscues, Wiggins would take defensive pressure off of him.
Looking past the X's and O's, personality and on-court chemistry has to be factored in as well.
To be fair, we've seen nothing from either Irving nor Wiggins to suggest they're anything other than quality, stand-up guys. Irving can be moody from time to time, but he has kept his nose clean and obviously has a great sense of humor with his Uncle Drew character. Wiggins is about as laid-back as they come, with a smile that engulfs his entire face.
So, which will fit best next to James?
While both seem happy to be playing second fiddle to James, this may not always be the case. In four or five years when James enters his mid-30s, maybe he won't want to be the star of the team anymore. Maybe he'll be OK relinquishing control to a 26-year-old Irving or 23-year-old Wiggins.
Of the two, which will be more aggressive in taking over as face of the franchise?
My money would be on Irving.
For one, Irving's already had the responsibility forced upon him, whether he was ready or not. While he may be OK letting James take the spotlight for now, one has to think this won't always be the case.
Irving's already begun to show the poise and leadership of a superstar, even if his team's record hasn't reflected that. When James needs a teammate to step up when he's having an off night, Irving should be the first in line.
One of the knocks on Wiggins has been his passive play in college. As Ryen Russillo of Grantland put it, "His personality comes off as timid. It’s not what you want from a guy that is supposed to be your leading scorer in a few years."
Matt Moore of CBS Sports had this to add:
Throughout the season, he was cast with the label of being too passive. He would drift. Some 19 year-olds come in and have the mental makeup to tell older, more established guys 'I want the ball, give it to me, I've got this.' Others have to work their way into it. And maybe Wiggins will struggle with the same problem in a locker room full of older guys in the NBA.
While Wiggins' passiveness may be fine now on a team with James, Irving and Dion Waiters, at some point he'll need to step up and put the team on his back.
Wiggins has the potential to do so, but Irving has already proved that he can.
While he may not bring much to the table defensively, Irving is the better overall teammate for James.
Irving is already a proven scorer, All-Star Game MVP and has enough attitude to take over a game when needed.
Wiggins is a fine complementary player who would help preserve James defensively, but can he become a serious offensive threat? With the Heat, James had two other reliable scorers around him. With the Cavs, only Irving can be counted on right now.
When announcing his return to Cleveland, James was quick to reference Irving, saying he could help him become one of the best point guards in the league.
There was no mention of Wiggins.
Clearly, Irving's presence played a role in James' return to the Cavaliers.
Both Irving and Wiggins will help James in their own way, but it's the 22-year old point guard who will fit better alongside James for years to come.
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