The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving is one of the top young point guards in the NBA, but he may want to take a page out of Jrue Holiday’s book.
Both play with small forwards who drive well to the basket. But while Irving and four-time league MVP LeBron James recently had words in the locker room concerning selfish play, Holiday is a big part of the New Orleans Pelicans’ strong play of late.
Improved ball movement has been pivotal in New Orleans (3-2) winning its past two games — against Charlotte on Tuesday and at reigning NBA champion San Antonio on Saturday — with Holiday feeding into the surge often by making the extra pass. He’ll try to keep it going Monday night at Cleveland (2-3).
“I guess that’s just the type of player that I am,” Holiday said. “Last year, when we won games, when everybody was playing well and touching the ball, everybody had really good numbers. I think that’s a part of the game for us. Obviously, making the extra pass, everybody gets a piece.”
Holiday had 15 points and a game-high 11 assists in the 100-99 win against San Antonio; New Orleans piled up 22 assists in all. The Spurs, who put on a clinic in the NBA Finals in June, had just 15 assists.
New Orleans had 26 assists on its 38 baskets in its 100-91 win against Charlotte. That even impressed coach Monty Williams, who’s not exactly effusive with praise. But playing with Tyreke Evans, a whirling dervish while driving to the basket, Holiday made the most of his touches. He had nine assists to go with 16 points and no turnovers.
Not seen in the box score are the times he made the extra pass — most notably to Anthony Davis, who had a game-high 24 points.
“He brings that ability to play well with others,” Williams said. “But I want him to have a balance, because he is a good scorer, too, with the ball and playing off the ball. I don’t want him to lose that.”
Irving may be learning that. He had 34 points on 12-of-23 shooting Wednesday at Utah. But he had no assists, and the Cavs finished with just six.
That drew the ire of James, who won two championships with the Miami Heat before returning home to Cleveland this summer. James, who had four assists, told Irving that six team assists just won’t cut it after Cleveland lost 102-100.
“We need to move the ball more,” power forward Kevin Love echoed. “It’s something to figure out. It’s still early.”
Irving apparently figured it out or determined it would be wise to listen to James. The Cavaliers won their next game, 110-101 at Denver on Friday, as Irving scored just 12 points but was one of seven Cleveland players in double digits. James scored 22 and had 11 assists, including as many in the first quarter as the Cavs had at Utah. Irving finished with six assists.
Whether the “me” Kyrie or the “we” Kyrie shows up Monday, Holiday said he will be tough to guard. Irving, the MVP in last season’s All-Star Game in New Orleans, is as good as it gets at driving to the basket and finishing — and he’s also one of the better pick-and-roll players in the NBA.
“Obviously, Kyrie’s handles are kind of impeccable,” Holiday said. “The things that he does with the ball is crazy.”