INDEPENDENCE: Before the Cavaliers faced the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center last month, coach Byron Scott reiterated how he didn’t believe Kyrie Irving had yet developed that killer instinct embedded deep within L.A. stars like Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul.
After watching Irving dominate in recent weeks, Scott is beginning to change his mind.
“I think it’s getting a lot closer,” Scott said. “He definitely has something, there’s no doubt about that. I think he’s getting used to and really kind of enjoying big moments.”
Irving stole a Cavs win at the Toronto Raptors two weeks ago when he calmly sank a 3-pointer from about 30 feet with one second left. He carried the Cavs to victory Saturday against the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder, when he scored 13 of the Cavs’ final 15 points — including another 3-pointer over an outstretched Russell Westbrook that was eerily similar to the game-winner in Toronto.
“The one thing about being able to hit shots like that, you’ve got to be willing to be the hero, but you have to be willing to be the goat, too,” Scott said. “Obviously the other guys I know have that in them. They don’t mind being the goat because they have so much faith in themselves. Kyrie is definitely getting to that point. He feels if the ball is in his hands and it’s a last second or the last play, he feels pretty good he’s going to make that shot. I think that’s half the battle.”
Aggressive, attacking style
Irving has scored 30 or more points 10 times this season and the Cavs are 7-3 in those games, but they’ve won the past six times it has happened Scott doesn’t believe Irving must score 30 points for the Cavs to win, but he believes Irving must play with an aggressive, attacking style every night in order for the Cavs to have a chance.
“He’s special. There’s no other way to really put it,” Cavs reserve Shaun Livingston said. “He has what it takes to really be a star in this league and he’s shown that. Even though it’s his second year, he doesn’t play like a second-year player. He plays like an experienced player. He’s supposed to be here. And he thrives in those situations.”
Scott played with Bryant his rookie season in Los Angeles and coached Paul his first few years in the league. He calls Paul the quiet assassin and has referred to Bryant’s willingness to rip out an opponent’s throat to gain victory. Irving seemed to be a bit more relaxed and passive last season, but has developed a bit of an edge to his game this year.
When asked where he ranks among NBA point guards, Scott initially called Irving a top five talent. Then after thinking about it for a moment, he placed him third behind only Paul and the Boston Celtics’ Rajon Rondo.
“[Rondo] leads the league in triple-doubles, leads the league in assists. Chris Paul because he changes the game,” Scott said. “Those are the top two right now. When I saw top five, to me [Irving] is probably right there at three.”
Learning how to defend
Scott believes Irving has the ability to overtake them and become the league’s best point guard — and given Rondo’s recent knee injury, perhaps sooner than later. But Irving must first learn to defend.
He too often loses his man on defense, fails to fight through screens and gets beaten off the dribble far too often by inferior point guards. The defensive end is perhaps the biggest remaining hole in his game.
“[Defense] is the only thing that’s going to separate him,” Scott said. “Every person I talk to basketball-wise, they know how gifted he is offensively. But the one word that keeps coming out of their mouths is he has to get better on the defensive end and I think he knows that. That’s what separates Chris Paul. He’s extremely good on the other end of the floor. Rondo is the same way. Derrick Rose, before he got hurt, was the same way.”
Scott recalled a time when he was coaching the New Orleans Hornets early in Paul’s career. They were facing the Chicago Bulls, and Ben Gordon was scorching the Hornets. Paul walked up to his coach following a timeout and asked to guard Gordon. He didn’t score again the rest of the night.
Scott has been waiting for that type of initiative from Irving. He wouldn’t disclose the details surrounding it, but said Irving recently did the same thing during a game.
“I’ve been waiting for you to accept that type of challenge,” Scott told Irving. “He’s continuing to grow, still has a long ways to go, but at 20 years old, the way he’s playing, it’s going to be scary to see him in four or five years when he figures out this league and the game really slows down for him. It’s going to be scary.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.