Poor Man’s Commish here once again reporting on behalf of InterBasket from Las Vegas, site of the US Olympic Men’s Basketball Team (aka “Team USA”) training. Over the past three days, I’ve had the privilege to watch a series of scrimmages, as well as an unrehearsed spur-of-the-moment Blake Griffin dunk exhibition.
During the first two days, I witnessed some breath-taking ballhandling skills from Kyrie Irving, who I embarrasingly mistook initially for OJ Mayo because Irving was wearing the #23 jersey, donning maroon/gold bracelets and shoes (the Cavs have the same colors as the USC Trojans), displaying some heart oncourt reminiscent of the Memphis Grizzly, and making a lot of three-pointers. To top it off, I’d forgotten my roster hardcopy in the media room (didn’t think I needed it) and we media sort of stumbled upon this scrimmage that was before us, all the while in awe of the assembly of such mega-superstars as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, and Carmelo Anthony, just to name a few.
Let us begin with said dribbling skills (click link, goes to YouTube video where Irving is shown towards the beginning).
I have literally not seen anyone outside of an AndOne mixtape display such ball-handling acumen. And we’re talking in real, actual, serious competition — yes, best believe, the players here at Team USA training are taking this extremely seriously.
One move that was not shown in the video was a double-behind-the-back crossover which I’m sure no other NBA player can execute nor has the creativity to do in a competitive, refereed game. From above the top of the circle in some traffic, Irving crossed over from left to right, then back right to left, then again back left to right — all in the blink of an eye — which left defenders frozen, and he was able to attack straight on after that.
On the third day of training camp, I had the fortunate opportunity to sit next to Byron Scott, Irving’s NBA head coach. Irving was in street clothes and Scott mentioned that Irving had “tweaked” an ankle. I said that I had not seen any NBA player with those moves, to which Scott didn’t hear me correctly and said that Kyrie’s always had those moves (as one might assume). I clarified and asked if he’d seen any NBA player in the past have a repertoire like that and he was hesitant until I suggested the name of Isiah Thomas, to which he agreed.
I also asked Scott if he felt Irving is under-rated. Scott replied saying that it’s only his second year, so he doesn’t think Irving is under-rated.
While on the bench, Irving kept dribbling a ball between his legs while seated and in those sweats. It appeared he really wanted to play yesterday.
Besides the moves, I noticed something else. This was apparent the moment media was allowed into the gym on Day One. Kyrie has that fire in his eyes. The same “I’m-gonna-beat-you” determination that I’ve seen in Mayo on TV and Jeremy Lin in person (many times, I might add, for Jeremy).
Again, this for a kid who is competing against the world’s biggest NBA superstars. Irving was guarded by the likes of Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Rudy Gay and Andre Iguodala (note: I did not see Chris Paul play as he’s been at least slightly injured, most recently wearing a thumb brace).
I’ve written many, many, many scouting reports. As far as players achieving their potential based on skillset alone, I can be wrong sometimes. But when you put the mental picture together with the physical attributes, I’d like to think I’m rarely, if ever, wrong. My claim to fame is The Jeremy Lin Movement. I know greatness when I see it. And I see it and then some in Kyrie Irving.