CINCINNATI: When Mike Brown envisioned Kyrie Irving playing a little shooting guard this season, the idea was to place him alongside veteran Jarrett Jack. That was temporarily derailed this preseason since Jack has missed more than a week with a little swelling in his knee, but it hasn’t deterred Brown from his plan.
Instead, he is using Irving alongside third-string point guard Matthew Dellavedova for short stretches. The idea is to bring Irving off screens a little more and take advantage of his jump shot, which Brown agreed Tuesday is probably the best on the team.
“For the first time in my three years, I can actually play there comfortably now,” Irving said of the shooting guard role. “I know all the positions on the floor, especially from the 2 spot. It allows me to not exert so much energy dribbling the ball, especially at the top of the key.”
Irving said the players go through drills every day at practice where he is playing off the ball.
“Me being at the 2 spot just opens up the lane for our bigs and our shooters in the corner,” he said.
To be clear, Brown is only viewing this as a small part of the offense. Irving is still the point guard on this team with the potential to be one of the best in the league — perhaps as soon as this season if he continues to progress defensively.
Irving’s 12 assists in Tuesday’s preseason win over the Philadelphia 76ers would’ve equaled his career high had it occurred during the regular season. He put the entire Sixers defense on skates at various points of the game. Undrafted rookie Rodney Williams crumpled to the ground at one point, a victim of Irving’s ball-handling. Irving previously had the Columbus crowd howling with his crossover that sent lottery pick Michael Carter-Williams shifting in the wrong direction as Irving sliced through the middle of the Sixers’ defense.
His stock is soaring across the league, too. In the annual NBA.com poll of league general managers, Irving received a vote for the player teams would most want to build a franchise around today. LeBron James was the overwhelming favorite, followed by Kevin Durant. Then came Irving.
He was not, however, selected in the same poll as one of the game’s top three point guards. That went to the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose and the San Antonio Spurs’ Tony Parker.
Still, Brown has been pleased with the pairing of Dellavedova and Irving. Presumably, it will work even better when Jack returns, considering he is entering his ninth season and Dellavedova is an undrafted rookie.
Brown wasn’t sure Tuesday if Jack will be available to play in either of the Cavs’ remaining preseason games. They conclude the preseason with back-to-back games, hosting the Washington Wizards in Cincinnati tonight and flying to Charlotte to face the Bobcats in Thursday’s preseason finale. Then they take a week off before opening the regular season Oct. 30 against the Brooklyn Nets.
Brown first came up with the plan of playing Irving and Jack together shortly after Jack signed as a free agent in July.
“It gives Kyrie a chance to do something different, so the defense has to adjust to something different,” Brown said. “It gives him an opportunity to move and play without the basketball. Now you’ve got two really good primary ball-handlers on the floor, so it gives you a lot of flexibility that I really enjoy.”
Irving led the team in 3-point shooting last season (39.1 percent) and won the 3-point shootout during All-Star weekend. His 279 3-point attempts, however, tied for 59th in the league. Playing a little shooting guard could feasibly give him a few more looks at open 3-pointers.
Of course, a few more jumpers also equals a few less drives to the rim and collisions with bigger defenders for a guy who has battled injuries. But Irving bristles at the idea playing shooting guard will save wear and tear on his body.
“If I did that, I don’t think I’d be myself,” he said. “It’s not the way the game is played for myself. It’s not like when I catch on the wing, I’m thinking, ‘Daniel Orton is down there, I’m not going to drive down the lane.’ It’s impossible for an NBA player to play like that. For me, it’s just staying aggressive and finding my spots. That’s it.”
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