The new era of the NBA is defined by pace-and-space small ball that emphasizes three-point shooting. The embrace of the three-ball has also led to a breakdown of traditional positions and more emphasis on position-less basketball, highlighted by an NBA Finals that at times saw Tristan Thompson at 6’9” as the tallest player on the court. Yet while we embrace position-less basketball for wings and bigs, for some reason point guards still get pigeonholed into more traditional roles and judged based upon the expectations that come with our traditional definition of those positions.
The normative thinking says that a point-guard should pass the ball and look to set his teammates up before getting his own. Herein lies the contradiction; what if a guy viewed universally as a point guard has dynamic scoring ability and also plays with a forward who happens to be one of the best passers and playmakers of all-time? Is it then OK for him to focus more on his transcendent ability to score the basketball?
When it comes to Kyrie Irving, many league observers tend to pigeonhole him into this role of traditional point guard, when that’s not always his role on the Cavaliers. Multiple times since taking over, Cavaliers’ Head Coach Tyronn Lue has talked about Kyrie’s need to be aggressive scoring the basketball, playing Kyrie’s game and taking the ball to the hoop; there’s clearly a dichotomy of what the general NBA blogosphere views Kyrie’s role as and what his own coach does. And instead of appreciating the greatness that is Irving, with his ability to shoot from anywhere on the court, along with his dazzling ball-handling and finishing ability around the rim, where he knows the exact spot to use on the back-board from basically every angle imaginable, we too often look at his shortcomings.
And remember: Irving is just 24 years old. He has games of 55 and 57 points, the 57 being the most ever scored vs. a Gregg Popovich coached team. He has made the All-Star team three times. He’s won an All-Star Game MVP and a Rising Stars Challenge MVP. He won the 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year Award. He’s been named the best player in the 2014 FIBA World Championships. He’s been the starting point guard for Team USA’s 2016 gold-medal winning squad. He’s dropped 41 points in Oracle Arena, in Game 5 of the NBA Finals while his team was facing elimination vs. a team that won 73 games and lost only once at home all season. He’s won an NBA Championship, averaging 27-4-4 on 47 percent shooting from the floor and 40.5 percent from three in the Finals. He’s hit the game-winner in a Game 7 in Oracle, to help his team become just the third team to ever win a road Game 7 in NBA Finals history, the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals and end the 52-year drought for the city of Cleveland.
So maybe Kyrie doesn’t fit the mold of traditional point guard. He definitely has room to improve on the defensive end. He over-dribbles and gets tunnel vision at times. And yes, he didn’t play that well for much of last year’s regular season.
But the true artistry is watching him score the basketball. It’s akin to Van Gogh and Picasso and Rembrandt all wrapped up in one. Irving’s Game 5 performance at Oracle in particular is a masterpiece of offensive perfection. And we want to downgrade the guy for not passing to Iman Shumpert? (No offense to Shump.)
Bill Simmons came up with a theory a few years ago called the 90-10 rule. There are some NBA players where for whatever reason, many look at the 10 percent of their game that has some flaws as opposed to appreciating the great things they do 90 percent of the time. Russell Westbrook was Simmons’ poster boy for this phenomenon. Westbrook is a once-in-a-generation talent that does things on a court that have rarely been seen. Yet early in his career, and sometimes still today, his flaws of taking bad shots and hogging the ball overshadow his greatness. Eventually, most learned to love Westbrook and accept that his greatness comes with some drawbacks.
The same goes for Kyrie and hopefully with time, his game becomes universally accepted. But if not, oh well. The Cavaliers’ second star has built an unbelievable resume at only 24. Heck, he’s one of only three current NBA stars, along with LeBron and Kevin Durant, to have his own signature Nike shoe that isn’t part of Jordan Brand.
Quite simply, he’s a superstar.
Second place votes: 13