This has been an off-season to remember for Kyrie Irving. It kicked off with a max contract extension worth $90 million over five years. The hype around Cleveland continued as LeBron James returned home, followed by the acquisition of Kevin Love. The Cleveland Cavaliers now possess their own big three and Irving is the ringmaster. The point guard improved his leadership skills this summer, as he led team USA to FIBA Gold and earned MVP honors in the process.
The road to success started off bumpy when Kevin Durant and Love withdrew their names from consideration. To make matters worse, Paul George gruesomely broke his leg in an exhibition game. This ignited a debate regarding injury risk among players competing internationally. Even after hurdling the obstacles, winning tournament gold wouldn’t be easy, but Kyrie and team USA didn’t falter.
Throughout the preliminary round, team USA finished with a 5-0 record in Group C. Irving was far from the top performer as he finished the group phase averaging 9.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game. Although the stats are not eye popping, the point guard has received praise for the immeasurable hustle and leadership.
Another attribute to commend is his selfless play as he didn’t require the ball in order to be effective. His selfless play could be reflected by his tournament average of 12.1 points, proving that he trusted his teammates and let the offense come his way. In addition, the guard was extremely efficient from the field, completing the World Cup shooting 56.2% from the field and 60.9% from behind the arc.
With this in mind, Kyrie went off during the Gold Medal Game against Serbia. The point guard played 25 minutes and finished as USA’s leading scorer (26 points). He connected on ten out of 13 shots (76.9%), including a perfect six for six from three point range. Needless to say, the United States marched onto a 129-92 victory.
In a recent interview with Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated, LeBron praised the young point guard from Duke along with power forward Kevin Love,
“I believe Kyrie can be the best point guard in the league very soon, and Kevin Love is already in the discussion as far as being the best power forward in the league,” James said. “We have so many great [power forwards]: Tim Duncan, if he’s playing center or power forward, Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol is still very good. But that’s my vision, to maximize [Love's] potential, and his potential to be the best at his position.”
In the end, to cap off a great tournament, Kyrie Irving earned MVP honors. It may have come as a surprise, but the award went to the right person. As was previously stated, it was Kyrie Irving’s intangibles that earned him this honor. It’s amazing considering that Irving wasn’t even projected as a starter, but ended up being the captain to steady the ship and lead the way.