The subject of Kyrie Irving’s style of play has always been a point of contention among fans. Most other score-first point guards are the primary option of their team, therefore their production is viewed as a necessity. However the presence of LeBron James, and the championship window for the Cleveland Cavaliers has put a microscope on Irving. His role within the team clashes with traditional views on how the position should be played. But in an interview with ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Irving opened up about finally becoming comfortable with his role.
One of the more powerful, and truly sad parts of the interview was Irving describing his reaction after winning a championship. With how well Irving has played in his career, it’s easy to forget he had just turned 24 years old prior to winning a championship. With other “superteams”, typically the stars have proven themselves before joining forces. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were bonafide stars before playing with LeBron. Kevin Durant had an MVP and a finals trip on his resume before joining the Golden State Warriors. For Irving, his guard was still up after his historic Finals performance:
At the start of the season Irving told a story about the celebratory scene after the Cavs won the NBA title last June in Oakland. In the moments after the victory, Irving's father Drederick and sister Asia found him on the floor. They were surprised that he wasn't celebrating
"I was waiting for more questions about, 'What about you shooting on this possession?' Or, 'What about you doing this or that?' I was done," Irving said in training camp. "I was so defensive that I didn't celebrate right after we won. I just hugged my dad and my sister. My dad is looking at me like, 'What's wrong?' I'm telling him, 'I'm waiting for someone to come up and say something to me about what happened during the game.' "
Like anything, there’s probably more than one factor that contributed to this feeling. From youth, to the current climate of sports media coverage, to being a teammate of LeBron, there are many things this insecurity can be attributed to.
It was clear to anybody watching the Finals that something had clicked for Irving after game two. His confidence and play for the last five games for the rest of the series helped end Cleveland’s title drought. That confidence has carried forward to this season, and has helped him become more comfortable with the player he is.
"Everyone internal was telling me and looking at me eye-to-eye and telling me to just be myself. There was nothing else to be. 'There was no one else you need to be, you don't need to try to be a 10-assist or 11-assist guy in the Finals.' It was all that. Once I accepted the noise and accepted the moment, everything was fine from there."And he's fine now. And whether he has 10 assists or zero in Game 2, you can be assured his attitude will be the same."I don't go out there with the intention to have zero assists; sometimes it just happens that way," Irving said Monday. "Sometimes the assist may not fall in my hands, it may fall to one of my teammates. I'm fine with that.”
Even with a more defiant and confident approach to criticism, Irving has shown considerable growth this season in his decision making. His potential assists this year increased from 8.9 to 11.3. His increased ability to read the defense has helped him not only in play-making, but helped him be a more deadly and efficient scorer. While he still has moments of pressing offensively, there is an understanding of what he needs to do and often corrects himself throughout the course of a game.
Irving’s ability to outplay anyone at his position for a series has caused him to be held to a high standard. But at the same time, it’s important to remember that he is at least two years younger than every starting point guard left in the playoffs at this point. With a full season in good health, he showed growth in maturity and with his play. The scrutiny may never go away, but he’s already helped deliver one championship and is only getting better.