This is Kyrie Irving's third season in the NBA. Ostensibly, it's Derrick Rose's sixth. But because of some cruel timing and the shear amount of injuries both stars have had to deal with the last few years, the two have never played against each other. It's been the Central Division's saddest running side narrative ever since this became evident, usurping even the mess of hair, energy and bravado that is Joakim Noah vs. Anderson Varejao when it comes to intriguing individual matchups in Bulls vs. Cavs.
Tonight at the United Center, the wait finally ends.
It should be awesome. These sort of marquee head-to-head battles hold such a fundamental place in basketball's appeal as a spectator sport, and it's hard to imagine many positional matchups more balanced than this one.
Rose and Iriving are about the same size. Rose is the stronger and more explosive athlete while Irving trades raw power for incredible quickness, superior shooting and an unrivaled ability to handle the basketball.
It is not an exaggeration when I say Kyrie Irving has the best handles I've ever seen.
That Brandon Knight continues to show up to work means he has a lot more courage than you do.
Yes, Dr. K is an unholy sorcerer when he's got the rock. The kid has an incredible amount of game, and he's still only 21 years old. That Irving is 3.5 years younger than Rose and is seemingly already on a comparable level might be the most impressive thing about him. SERIOUSLY:
For all of the talent here, both Rose and Irving have gotten off to similarly slow starts. Irving's struggles certainly aren't as exaggerated as Rose's, but he is shooting only 39 percent from the floor and has played out of control at times (he had nine turnovers against the Wolves a week ago). Irving did hit a straight nasty game-winner against the 76ers on Saturday in his third attempt to do so, so maybe he's just starting to get on track.
Rose, meanwhile, looks like he isn't particularly close to regaining his stranglehold on the league. Rose is averaging more shots than points and more turnovers than assists. He's getting stuffed at the rim once for every 7.5 shot attempts. He's still pressing and still not seeing the floor well. All of this is sure to come in time, but Rose has been so bad for enough of a sample size now that it seems like the real abnormality was his preseason performance.
Maybe a much-hyped head-to-head battle with Irving is what gets him out of this funk? The Bulls better hope so. Rose enters the game at No. 6 in usage rate while Irving is No. 7. It stands to reason that these teams are only going to go as far as their star guards take them. It also makes sense then that these two teams share a pretty similar profile thus far.
The Bulls enter with the No. 27 offense; the Cavs are at No. 29. The Bulls have the No. 5 defense; the Cavs are at No. 8. Both teams lost to the 76ers and got trounced by the Pacers. Both teams have critical supporting cast members who simply aren't playing well right now.
Still, the Cavs are going to something to reckon with in the not-too-distant future. At least they should be.
What makes the Cavs so potentially dangerous moving forward is the ridiculous volume of top five draft picks they've had the last few years. What makes them a potential laughingstock is that Irving is the only pick that looks really good.
Tristan Thompson was the No. 4 pick in 2011. Dion Waters was the No. 4 pick in 2012. Anthony Bennett was the No. 1 pick this summer. Each only spent a year in college and each are is still very young. Young players get better. But at the moment, only Thompson looks like a solid, if unspectacular, pro.
Waiters has been on the 'more shots than points' kick ever since he entered the league. It isn't unfair to call him a poor man's Ben Gordon right now, and that's a barb that cuts deep. Bennett started the season in a huge shooting slump, but has loads of potential. The thought of Bennett and Irving running pick-and-pop sets for the next 10 years is terrifying; Bennett has the makeup of someone who could perennially average 20 points per game with range that extends past the three-point line. I'm a fan and think he's going to be very good moving forward. Right now, he's still adjusting to the pro game. Maybe Waiters is, too.
Some other things to look for tonight:
- Is Andrew Bynum in Costume or Not?
- Can Jimmy 'Cool Hair' Butler take Cleveland's undersized off-guards, Waiters and Jarrett Jack, to school in the paint?
- Is Luol Deng back, or do the Jazz just suck?
- Can C.J. Miles keep shooting threes this well?
- "You like it? You think Cleveland's cool? I never heard anybody say I'm going to Cleveland on vacation. What's so good about Cleveland?"
Bulls vs. Cavs, D. Rose vs. Kyrie. Should be pretty cool.