INDEPENDENCE: He has a penchant for padding, which needs to become an aversion as soon as possible.
Soon, as in yesterday.
During a recent workout, Cavaliers’ star point guard Kyrie Irving chest-bumped the wall after making “a tremendous play” that he said coach Byron Scott refused to acknowledge.
Perhaps that’s because Scott wants no part of the 2011-12 NBA Rookie of the Year’s amazing force striking an immovable object, even if there’s a protective layer of muscle involved.
“I told him when he slaps things, things break, so he has to be very under control at all times,” Scott said.
Control is not exactly Irving’s style. The 20-year-old Irving is all about dazzling plays, about whirls and spins and dunks and 3-pointers and explosion off the dribble.
But when Irving fractured a bone in his right hand on July 14 by slapping a padded wall after losing the ball in a July summer league game, it only reinforced how important Irving is to the Cavs.
The injury required surgery and robbed him of valuable playing time with new backcourt mate Dion Waiters, the fourth-overall pick from Syracuse. It also sent a shivering reminder to the organization just how much Irving means to Cavs and how important it is to keep him healthy.
Irving sat out 15 games last season, 13 of those with a concussion and right shoulder injuries. In games he missed, the Cavs went 4-11. Shut down and inactive for the final two games, the team was virtually unwatchable.
With the season opening Oct. 30, encasing him in bubble wrap is out of the question. Scott said he’s not worried about Irving being injury prone. But part of Scott’s challenge will be to teach Irving when to take chances and when to play under control.
Especially since Scott and Irving’s teammates believe Kyrie 2.0 will be an even more spectacular version than Kyrie 1.0.
“I think Kyrie is going to have a breakout season,” Scott said Monday during the Cavs’ media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts.
“I kind of know what’s about to happen,” six-year veteran guard Daniel Gibson said. “I know the rest of the world should be prepared for something special.”
Asked what’s going to happen, Gibson said, “Special. Greatness. Very few players come around like him. He comes in the gym and he doesn’t warm up or anything and we get out on the floor and he’s doing all kind of moves. That’s Kyrie. It’s a special talent that the world will get to see real soon.”
From his experience coaching Chris Paul in New Orleans, Scott expects Irving to take the next step as a vocal leader in year two, just as Paul did when he felt more comfortable in the system.
“I’m going to get to the point this season, just like I did with Chris, when he’s looking over for plays and I’m going to tell him, ‘Run it. Run the offense. You know it just as well as anybody out there,’ ” Scott said. “I don’t know if that’s going to be the first week. I don’t know if it’s going to be in December. I don’t know if it’s going to be in February. There will come a time this season I’ll just tell him basically to take over.”
There will be no waiting until December, Irving said unabashedly: “I won’t be looking at coach Scott until I make a turnover or unless we call a timeout.”
Irving has many reasons to believe he’ll be better. He said with an injured right hand, he worked more with his left, especially on his floater. He put on five pounds, hoping to hold up better when he drives to the basket. He gained valuable experience as a member of the U.S. Select Team that practiced against Team USA before it left for the Olympics.
“That let him know that he does belong up there with some of the better point guards, and I think it also let him know that he’s still got a little ways to go,” said Scott, who was in Las Vegas watching. “He showed that the potential is definitely there. There were some moments in Vegas that had everybody just kind of shaking their heads.”
Irving said going against “a dream team” every day was a confidence booster.
“There are a lot of things I learned from the all-star point guards and everybody on the team. Just taking care of my body and how to be a better pro,” he said.
But the more pressing question is what Irving learned from the padded wall.
“It wasn’t so much a lesson. It was one of those things that was just a freakish accident,” he said. “Honestly, it could have been [avoided] by me being smarter. Going forward, I’m staying away from pads.”
For a point guard used to playing Superman every night, that’s a vow he might be hard-pressed to keep.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.