One of the themes of this training camp has been the maturation of Kyrie Irving. He still isn’t old enough to buy a beer, but he’s no longer the “young fella,” in part because Ramon Sessions isn’t around to call him that.
Neither are Anthony Parker nor Antawn Jamison back. Irving wasn’t exactly meek last season, but he also knew his place in the locker room fell somewhere behind the more experienced veterans. Not anymore.
The Irving who returned this summer is more aggressive on and off the court. He’s looking for his own shot more often, calling for the ball from teammates and even running his own plays in practice — plays that actually don’t exist in the real playbook.
“He keeps calling all these plays,” coach Byron Scott said. “We’ve got a couple plays called ‘X.’ None of them say ‘X1’ and he calls ‘X1.’ ”
Scott laughed while saying it, but it’s clear Irving is taking on even more of a scorer’s mentality after leading the team in scoring last season at 18.5 points per game. Scott would eventually like to see his scoring figures level off or even decrease a bit once he has more scorers around him, but right now scoring is hard to come by when Irving isn’t on the floor.
He struggled terribly with his shot through the first few preseason games, but he has shot 54 percent in the past two contests (13-of-24). He is finding his rhythm from 3-point range, too, which is part of the reason Scott said about a week ago that Irving is the best outside shooter on this team.
Irving was surprised Scott would say such a thing.
“I can’t believe coach Scott said that. I shoot outside shots … some of the shots I should take I don’t take at times,” Irving said.
The fact the Cavs’ best outside shooter is their point guard and their shooting guard and is more comfortable with the ball in his hands initiating the offense is just one of the intricacies they’re trying to work through this camp.
In fact, Irving keeps telling Scott and reporters he wants to play inside more and post up other point guards. He did it, at times, last season with varying degrees of success but wants to do it more often this season.
It’s part of the reason he added a little muscle in the offseason. It wasn’t much — he says it was about five pounds — but it will give him a little more meat to withstand the punishment of a full season. It also gives him a few more pounds to bump around inside when necessary.
“I feel like I added another piece to my game,” Irving said. “Just adding that [weight] and being able to withstand a whole entire game without getting knocked down. Players are more physical in the NBA and I wanted to be more prepared this season.”
Veterans such as Anderson Varejao and Daniel Gibson remain, but this is evolving into Irving’s team now and he’s acting as such.
When his fractured hand prevented him from participating in pickup games with teammates over the summer, he was still at the facility watching rookie Dion Waiters. And when Waiters passed up an open shot in a scrimmage, Irving came shouting from the side and told him to take those shots.
He is a flourishing superstar whom the rest of the country is quickly discovering. His idea over the summer to play an old man named “Uncle Drew” in a Pepsi Max commercial quickly became an Internet sensation. Now he’ll appear Monday as himself in Disney’s television show Kickin’ It.
The rest of the NBA learned of Irving last year. Now he has to prove that his post moves, his improvement on defense and his aggressiveness in finding his own shots can make him even better.
“It’s going to be a lot tougher on him, there’s no doubt about that,” Scott said. “But I feel comfortable and confident that he’s going to be able to have a real good season. I think adding the guys that we’ve added around him are going to help as well. I think Kyrie is going to have a breakout season.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.