"He doesn't pass the ball..."
"...Kyrie Irving had no assists tonight in a loss at Utah,..."
Kyrie Irving has been under harsh scrutiny since LeBron James returned to Cleveland in the summer of 2014. At the time, the Cavaliers started off slowly, starting the season 19-20 through the first 39 games, and Kyrie Irving was having problems fitting in. Fast forward to the Finals where Irving fractures his kneecap and James has to put the team on his back; questions begin to surround the team after their loss to the Warriors. Is Irving the right running mate for James? Can Irving be the point guard that the team needs? Can Irving help James lead this team to a title?
It turns out that the answer was a resounding "yes."
Irving comprehensively outplayed the unanimous MVP in the NBA Finals — Curry had little to no answer for Irving, especially through the last five games of the series. Irving regularly torched the two-time MVP, and he played a crucial role in the final three games of the series. His 41 points in Game 5 of the series allowed the series to get back to Cleveland for Game 6, and in Game 7, his ridiculous and-1 over Draymond Green and game-winning three over Curry helped to seal the title for the Cavaliers.
After the Finals, Irving, Love, and James had all been validated. Irving was now free to just be Kyrie Irving. He doesn't need to try to be a player he's not. He doesn't need to try to play like Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, or Steve Nash; he was free to play similar to Kyrie Irving.
Irving has been playing "loose" this year — he seems to be playing with a care-free attitude that is allowing him to play a more relaxed style that is allowing him to score and distribute at a career-high level.
Since December 1, Kyrie Irving is averaging 8.7 assists a game, by far the best mark of his career. He is finding teammates in a style that is very reminiscent of a player named LeBron James — Irving will penetrate the lane, and then kick to a teammate on the wing, or to a teammate who is cutting into the lane. He has reportedly been watching fill of Dwyane Wade to see how he would set up LeBron James when the two were teammates in Miami, and this has been helping him to be more of a distributor.
The biggest key in his recent run of distributing is that he is beginning to see things before they happen. He is in a place where he knows what his teammates are going to do and where they should be, and that allows him to have the confidence to make the right pass at the right time. This has completely transformed the offense too. Not only is James making pinpoint passes to open teammates, but now Irving has been able to add that to his game. This is arguably the most important facet of his game now because everyone knows about his ability to take his man off the dribble, to use his skills in the midrange game, to bury shots from three. But now that he is assisting at a career level for him, it allows the offense to continue to flow and not be stagnant when James is on the bench.
Winning the NBA Finals last year has done so much for the confidence of all the Cavalier players, particularly Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Having this confidence has done nothing but allowed Irving to play care-free, and this has allowed him to open up his game to include his teammates more. He has been validated — all of the naysayers have had to watch as Irving, Love, and James shocked the world and defeated the best regular season team of all time.
One final thing to remember: Kyrie Irving is just now entering his prime — it'll only get better for Irving.