Irving-Walker battle on point as Cavs face Hornets
They always played the same position and were part of the same draft class. Now Kemba Walker is joining the elite class Kyrie Irving has already occupied, too.
Irving has long been considered one of the best point guards in the league since winning the Rookie of the Year award. Walker is joining that conversation following his terrific start.
They will meet Sunday at Cleveland when the surprising Hornets (6-2) visit the defending champion Cavaliers (7-1).
Both point guards lead their team in scoring. LeBron James has led his team in scoring in each of his 14 years in the league, but he has willingly turned over a lot of the responsibility to Irving, who is 24 and entering his sixth year in the league.
Irving is among the top 10 scorers in Cavaliers' history, moving past Campy Russell for ninth place in Friday's win at Washington.
“Kyrie is a guy who can score and we want him to be aggressive and attack the basket because nobody can stop him,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.
“LeBron can do both. He can facilitate and so can Kyrie. We have a great balance right now, we just have to keep it going.”
Walker, meanwhile, has scored at least 20 points in each of the Hornets' last seven games.
In Friday's loss to the Toronto Raptors, he became the first point guard in Charlotte history to score 40 points, grab 10 rebounds and pass for six assists, according to the Charlotte Observer.
It's early, but the 26-year-old Walker is averaging career highs in points, field-goal percentage and 3-point shooting.
“He's lightning quick,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder told the Observer. “He's one of the better ball handlers in the league as far as his command over the ball. He can get where he wants to go.”
Irving was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, while Walker went ninth. For his first few years in the league, Irving was tied to Brandon Knight, who went one spot ahead of Walker to the Detroit Pistons.
There was a theory at the time of the draft that the Cavs, who held the first and fourth picks, should select Derrick Williams No. 1 overall and take Knight fourth.
Clearly selecting Irving first and Tristan Thompson fourth was the better alternative. Six years later, Walker is emerging as the second-best point guard of the class.
He has improved his 3-point shot dramatically over the last two years, which is a big reason why he finished second last year in the NBA's Most Improved Player voting.
Now Walker is poised to lead the Hornets back to the playoffs for the third time in the last four years.
But if they keep playing at this level, just making the postseason won't be good enough. Charlotte hasn't advanced to the second round since 2001-02 and it has never reached the conference finals.
“I can't really think that far ahead,” Walker told the Observer. “The goal for the regular season is to get to the playoffs, then get there and think about things like that. … But I will say I'm super-confident in my team.”