Former rookie of the year, three-time NBA All-Star, NBA Champion–at only 24 years of age, Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving has already done plenty to etch his name in the NBA record books. On paper, the accolades make Irving look pretty good, watching him in person makes him look even better.
Irving has yet to find himself in the conversation for league’s most valuable player. Given the trajectory of his career, he may be finding himself in that conversation very soon. He received a pretty good endorsement from teammate LeBron James, who had this to say about Irving:
“His ability to lead a team and his ability to score and get guys involved, we’re going to continue to improve as a team, we’re going to be right up there with the league leaders in wins, so why not?”
With his team off to its first 5-0 start in 40 years, Irving has played a major role in Cavaliers’ early success. His play perhaps suggests that Irving is ready to take the next step in his career.
Entering Thursday’s match-up with the Celtics, Irving was leading the Cavaliers by averaging 26.8 points per game while shooting 47.6% from the field and 53.6% from three. At 20.5 shots per game, he shooting 6 more times per game than James, who is shooting the ball 14.5 times per contest. His 26.8 points per game would have ranked him 5th in the NBA last year, after Demarcus Cousins and before Damian Lillard.
The best part of it all? LeBron doesn’t seem to care.
A large part of the reason James returned to Cleveland was to play with Irving. James has had plenty of individual accolades, but winning in Cleveland (perhaps multiple times) was his goal. Irving was undoubtedly the biggest selling point in James’ return.
James, who is regarded by many as a basketball genius, saw the potential in Irving. Now that both share the floor at Quicken Loans Area, James seems to be content to facilitate the game while Irving carries the scoring load. The arrangement perhaps will elongate James’ career. What it definitely will do is play a part in crafting Irving’s legacy.
Aside from playing with the league’s best facilitator, playing in Cleveland has significant advantages for Irving’s potential run at MVP. The Cavaliers are a regular on national television, which gives Irving the exposure he needs to garner attention. In addition, the last 6 MVP’s teams have made it to at least the conference finals. [Side note: The last player to win MVP and have his team not make it to the conference finals round was LeBron James in 2010].
Irving lives for the limelight. Time and time again in his NBA career, Irving has taken (and made) big shots to close out games. None of those shots were bigger than the three he hit over unanimous MVP Steph Curry to help propel the Cavaliers to the 2016 NBA title. The shot will live on in history as the one that changed the fortunes of a city starving for a title. It could very well end up being one that proves to be a springboard for an illustrious career, as well.
If his career ended today, Irving would be remembered for his signature shot and for a guy who helped some pretty cool sneakers. Maybe scariest thing about Irving is that he continues to get better.
Did I mention he’s only 24?