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The Cavs are turning to No. 1 overall draft pick Kyrie Irving to help turn their team's fortunes around.
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Irving will have plenty of opportunities to learn NBA game

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Dec 19 2011 11:08AM

So what was your favorite moment of the Baron Davis era of Cleveland Cavaliers basketball?

It lasted 39 days, 15 games and nine starts, generating 208 points, 92 assists and six victories, which was a pretty good percentage (.400) for a team that went 13-54 (.194) before Davis arrived or otherwise wasn't on the floor with them.

But Davis' greatest contribution came before he ever tugged on a Cavs jersey or touched a basketball for them. It was the trade with the Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 24, with Mo Williams and Jamario Moon heading west, that produced the unprotected first-round draft pick, which in turn bounced up in the lottery to become No. 1 overall. And that turned into Kyrie Irving, the Duke phenom who represents the NBA's future in Cleveland -- and made that very same Baron Davis eligible for the amnesty ranks.

Hey, as the kids in Cleveland say, what's not to like?

There was consideration to keeping Davis around as a mentor to Irving and a more experienced option if the rookie ran into trouble during his initial trips through the NBA. But Davis' aching back and head coach Byron Scott's determination to help the kid however possible made that unnecessary.

"You know who the best mentor for Kyrie is? You are looking at him," Scott told Cleveland reporters. "I have had that situation with Chris Paul [in New Orleans] as well. I don't want to sound cocky, guys, but you are looking at him. I'm the best. ... But in that sense as well, we have a lot of good veterans on this team that will help him."

Scott wasn't a point guard during his 14-season NBA career, during which he was part of three championship teams with the L.A. Lakers. But as a coach, he had Jason Kidd when the New Jersey Nets went to The Finals in 2002 and 2003. In 2008, he and Chris Paul won 56 games and made it to the Western Conference semifinals.

"Unlike most rookies, you can tell him one time and he gets it right there," the Cavs coach said of Irving. "It doesn't take him three or four times to get it."

With Ramon Sessions as backup and others on board who can spell Irving, there will be opportunities to sit and learn by watching. Some of that will have to come in games because, after all, practice time will be scarce in this compressed 66-game schedule.

"At Duke we had a lot of pick-and-rolls, and that's kind of what Coach Scott did for Chris Paul when he was at New Orleans," Irving told Cavs media. "It's a lot of pick-and-roll situations and making plays for my teammates. That's what he wants me to do is push the ball up and down the court as fast as I can."

Irving would seem to be a quick study, considering how he needed only 11 games with the Blue Devils (turf toe injury) to earn his lofty draft status. Among his skills, Irving is a legit playmaker and a steady shooter, relying more on guile and timing than the sheer explosiveness of Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook.

Not having Davis around to "force" Irving to earn his starting role seems irrelevant at this point, given the rookie's expressed desires. "Either way, I would've had to earn my position here," Irving said on the brink of his first NBA preseason game. "That's kind of the attitude and mentality I was coming in with, just to earn my spot and prove to coach Scott and my teammates I can play at this level."

Irving and fellow rookie Tristan Thompson will try to reignite excitement at Quicken Loans Arena that got snuffed 18 months ago when LeBron James made his decision to leave for Miami. In basketball terms, it was the equivalent of Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown. The Cavs went head over heels, ranking near the bottom of the league in field goals, shooting percentage, steals, blocks, defense of all sorts and scoring.

Excited for his first taste of legit NBA action, Irving came off the bench against the Detroit Pistons and scored 21 points in 27 minutes, with three assists, five turnovers and 4-of-14 shooting. He competed against college rival Brandon Knight, a Detroit rookie, and took a hard spill at one point, grabbing his ankle after a collision with the Pistons' sturdy Jason Maxiell.

Some Cleveland fans got nervous. Bur Irving shrugged it off and Scott more or less beamed.

"Every day I see glimpses of what this kid can do," the Cavs coach said recently. "Then maybe 10 minutes later, he'll show me he's still a rookie. It brings a smile to my face, though, because we've got a good one."

The three-step plan

1. Keep it simple. Coach Byron Scott has decided to install only elements of his preferred "Princeton" offense this season to ease his young players' learning curve.

2. Take their time. There's no reason to rush rookies Irving and Thompson into heavy minutes whether they start or not. The lottery beckons regardless.

3. Get more O from "Andy." Anderson Varejao's return from ankle surgery should help with a defense that ranked No. 23, giving up 104.5 points per game. But the Cavs could use help scoring in the paint, where they ranked No. 22. Anderson is a career 7.1 ppg man.

Three points

1. Raw Tristan Thompson has a nose for defense and shot-blocking, though Scott wants him to study some Bill Russell footage to learn how to swat shots and maintain control of the ball.

2. The Cavs were 7-9 at the start, 11-18 at the end. But oh, that middle! Losing 36 of 37, including an NBA-record 26 in a row, might have been even rougher on the team and its fans than the lockout.

3. Veteran forward Antawn Jamison, 35, stepped into the mine shaft of Cleveland's plummet from 61 victories to 19. Now he's coming off his second lockout. "I'm to the point now where I'm just enjoying the game," he said.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

AT A GLANCE

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Team Site | Schedule | Tickets

Video | Fantasy | Team Store

LAST YEAR: 19-63, 5th in Central

FINISH: Missed playoffs

2010-11 Regular Season Standings

2010-11 TEAM LEADERS

Antawn Jamison

18.0 PPG

Anderson Varejao

9.7 RPG

Baron Davis

6.1 APG

2010-11 STATISTICS

  OFFENSE DEFENSE
PPG 95.5 104.5
RPG 40.3 43.5
APG 21.0 24.2
FG % 0.434 0.475
3PT % 0.342 0.411
FT % 0.745 0.759
  Complete 2010-11 Stats 
STARTING FIVE

KYRIE IRVING, POINT GUARD

N/A

Top draft pick Irving enters the NBA with the skillset of a natural point guard with excellent court vision and good range on his shot. Gets chance to play with Baron Davis gone.

ANTHONY PARKER, SHOOTING GUARD

8.3 PPG | 3.0 APG | 3.0 RPG

A veteran shooting guard, Parker is a solid defender and ball handler whose forte is catch-and-shoot opportunities on the offensive end.

OMRI CASSPI, SMALL FORWARD

8.6 PPG | 4.3 RPG | 1.0 APG

Acquired by the Cavs for J.J. Hickson in a pre-lockout trade with the Kings, Casspi, recovering from an offseason MCL sprain, is effective in the open court and a good rebounder.

ANTAWN JAMISON, POWER FORWARD

18.0 PPG | 6.7 RPG | 0.9 SPG

The veteran managed to play only 56 games last season. Scoring may be a challenge for the Cavs, who will look to capitalize on Jamison's ability to make plays at the rim.

ANDERSON VAREJAO, CENTER

9.1 PPG | 9.7 RPG | 1.2 BPG

The hard-nosed center was limited to 31 games last season after dealing with a torn ankle tendon. Varejao is known for his hustle and defense as well as crashing the boards.

RESERVES
NAMEHTWTPOSCOMMENT
Tristan Thompson6-8225FPoor shooter, strong near rim, reason Hickson is gone.
Ramon Sessions6-3190GNot exactly veteran mentor, will help Irving with workload.
Christian Eyenga6-5210FLeaper who needs improvement in all areas.
 Complete Roster 
OFFSEASON MOVES

ADDED: G Kyrie Irving, F Tristan Thompson, F Omri Casspi

LOST:  F-C J.J. Hickson, F-G Joey Graham, G Baron Davis (amnesty)

MAN ON THE SPOT

KYRIE IRVING, GUARD

Irving enters with both time and pressure. The Cavs have no serious expectations as a team but, in this golden age of point guards in the NBA, Irving constantly will be measured against the likes of John Wall, Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams. And that's just in his own conference.

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