Position-by-Position: Guarded Optimism

Straight to the Point

There’s zero question about it: Kyrie Irving is a bone fide NBA superstar just now reaching the prime of his career.

He was the 2012 Rookie of the Year, was named an All-Star on four occasions – winning MVP honors in 2014 – has posted two of the franchise’s top three individual scoring games and hit the biggest shot in Cavaliers franchise history, drilling the game-winning triple with 53 seconds to play to give Cleveland its first NBA title and the city’s first championship in 52 years.

And now he wears No. 11 for the Boston Celtics.

”Me leaving (Cleveland) wasn’t about basketball,” said Irving at last week’s introductory presser in Beantown. “It was more or less about creating that foundation of me in Cleveland, and then now taking this next step as a 25-year-old evolving man and being the best basketball player I can be.”

At this point last year, the Cavaliers point guard situation consisted of Kyrie being backed up by pastiche of players ranging from Iman Shumpert to DeAndre Liggins to Jordan McRae to Kay Felder. The Cavaliers finally locked down that role, but it wasn’t until late February, when they signed Deron Williams after being waived by the Mavericks.

This fall, the position has been completely re-tooled. And once again, it might now come completely into focus until the season is already in progress.

Isaiah Thomas – the last pick in the 2011 Draft that saw Irving go first overall – improved exponentially during his Western Conference days with Sacramento and Phoenix, hitting his true stride after being dealt to Boston in a three-team deal, nearly winning Sixth Man honors after averaging 19.0 points per in the final 21 regular season games with Boston.

In his next season as a starter, Thomas earned the first of two All-Star nods. Last year, in 76 games, Thomas averaged a career-best 28.9 ppg – good for third-best in the NBA and second-best in Celtics history – along with 5.9 assists per. An All-Star and All-NBA Second Team selection last year, the former Washington Huskie set career-highs in field goal, three-point and free throw percentage. His .909 mark from the stripe was good for second-best in the league.

But the hip injury that sidelined Thomas for the final three games of the Eastern Conference Finals will likely keep him on the shelf for the first part of the season. Thankfully, Koby Altman and the Cavaliers’ new-look front office spent the first part of the summer locking up a strong contingency plan.

We’ll get into the Cavaliers’ bench when we examine the squad’s Second Unit in the next week, but for now, it looks like the Cavaliers will head into the 2017-18 campaign with former MVP and top overall pick Derrick Rose running the point.

Rose has battled myriad knee issues after injuring his MCL in the 2012 postseason, and he was limited to just 10 games in 2013-14. But he’s increased his game load every season since – starting 64 games for a bad Knicks team last season – averaging 18.0 points per, his highest scoring mark since 2011-12, without being the squad’s first offensive option.

In his single season with New York, Rose notched double-figures in 61 of his 64 appearances, topping the 20-point plateau on 24 occasions.

The Cavaliers lost a superstar this summer. And still managed to get deeper at the modern game’s most critical position.

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