And Kyrie Irving’s charmed offseason continues. After inking a max-level extension that cemented his status as a franchise cornerstone and watching as the previously woebegone Cleveland Cavaliers completed a wholesale roster overhaul highlighted by the addition of two of basketball’s best players, Irving has emerged as the likely starter at point guard for Team USA.
Irving was the first guard off the bench in the United States’ exhibition debut against Brazil on August 16. But the ongoing physical acclimation of Derrick Rose to competitive play opened the door for Irving to start for coach Mike Krzyzewski, and the Cleveland star has taken advantage.
ESPN’s Marc Stein reports that Irving will open Team USA’s final exhibition game Tuesday night on the floor. Coach K, however, says there is still a chance that he and Rose will rotate as World Cup play kicks off on August 30.
Kyrie Irving will start opposite Goran Dragic at point guard Tuesday night when Team USA plays Slovenia in its final tuneup game leading into the FIBA World Cup.
But Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, in tabbing Irving as his starter against the Dragic-led Slovenians, told ESPN.com that one option under consideration is letting Irving and Derrick Rose trade ?off as the starter throughout the tournament, which opens Saturday in Bilbao with the Yanks facing Finland.
“We’ll see as thing goes on,” Krzyzewski said after Monday’s two-hour practice. “We might alternate ’em. Both of them are going to play significant minutes.”
Krzyzewski says he can also envision Irving and Rose playing together once the tournament starts as Rose continues to acclimate himself to full-speed basketball after two major knee injuries limited him to just 10 games over the last two seasons with the Chicago Bulls.
Irving’s ascent to the top of Team USA’s point guard pecking order is especially impressive considering that many deemed it possible he wouldn’t make the World Cup roster at all. With Rose and Steph Curry surfacing as Krzyzeski’s preferred backcourt tandem early in training camp, Irving appeared to be locked in a heated battle with Damian Lillard for a single roster spot. But that notion proved wrong once the Americans began exhibition play; Coach K called Irving part of his team’s “core” while Lillard managed scant playing time off the bench.
It’s mostly inconsequential whether Irving or Rose starts for the United States, of course. As Krzyzewski confirms, both players will see major court-time and even man the perimeter in tandem on occasion. Curry’s notable defensive struggles throughout the exhibition slate – the Golden State Warriors superstar can’t seem to stay out of foul trouble – make that possibility nearly inevitable, especially considering the aggression and quickness Irving and Rose have shown off on that end for the Americans.
But it would be remiss to act as if Irving’s performance for Team USA thus far was a foregone conclusion, too. The 22 year-old struggled to live up to sky-high expectations with Cleveland during the 2013-2014 season, posting career-lows in points, rebounds, and assists per-36 minutes. Irving also shot worse from the field and three-point range than he did in either of his first two seasons.
His status going into training camp with USA Basketball in July, then, was far different than what it was in the summer of 2013. Irving seemed the heir apparent for Team USA at point guard a year ago, dominating mini-camp play and thriving in the intra-squad scrimmage. Krzyzewski and USAB chairman Jerry Colangelo nearly admitted as much, but his disappointing NBA season – combined with improvements by Lillard and Curry and the health of Rose – cast real doubt on his place within the national program.
So that Irving is suddenly starting for the Americans has almost erased those concerns completely, and that will remain the case whether or not he and Rose rotate as starters during tournament play.
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