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Steve Luhm's NBA column: Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving emerges as a star

Published January 19, 2013 3:42 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Take it from Jamaal Tinsley, who has battled scores of opposing point guards during his NBA career.

Kyrie Irving is special.

The reigning Rookie of the Year and heir apparent to LeBron James as the franchise foundation in Cleveland, Irving doesn't turn 21 until March.

Midway through his second professional season, however, Irving has caught the eye of anybody who has been paying attention to the Cavaliers.

"He's good," said Tinsley. "He's still young, but he knows how to use his body and position himself on the court to score. …

"He's a creative guy, too. He's more than just a scorer — he's athletic and creative. That makes him harder to stop."

Irving and the Cavs made their only stop of the season in Utah on Saturday night. He entered the game averaging 23.3 points and 5.6 assists.

Beyond the numbers, Tinsley sees a player who is mature beyond his years and has flourished in his role as the key to Cleveland's future.

"That can be hard on a young player," Tinsley said. "You don't know exactly how to fit in with your teammates. But he's doing a great job of being responsible— knowing he's a magnitude player for that team."

The bottom line?

"He could be great," Tinsley said.

Irving was born in Australia, where his father played professional basketball. His mother died when he was four, leaving his father to raise him in West Orange, N.J.

Irving attended Duke for one year, but he missed most of his freshman season because of a ligament injury in his big toe.

Irving returned in time to play in the NCAA Tournament and scored 28 points in a Sweet 16 loss to Arizona.

He declared for the NBA after the season and the Cavs, in search of a star after James' decision to sign with Miami, took Irving with the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft.

"Offensively," coach Byron Scott says, "he doesn't have any weaknesses."

After averaging 18.5 points and 5.4 assists, Irving ran away with last season's Rookie of the Year balloting. He received 117 of 120 first-place votes.

Problem.

Irving broke his hand in the Las Vegas Summer League in July. He also missed three weeks early this season because of an injured finger.

Irving has bounced back, however, and probably deserves an All-Star berth, even though the Cavaliers have struggled.

Said Scott: "The criteria, sometimes, is how the team is doing just as much as how the player is doing. So from that standpoint, it might be hard for him to make it. But from my standpoint — the way he's played — I don't see a point guard in the Eastern Conference that's played better."