Irving starts fast for the Cavaliers

Sam Drew

Reigning Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving continued where he left off last season, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers over the Washington Wizards, 94-84, in Tuesday’s season opener.

Irving led all scorers with 29 points on 11-for-20 shooting while adding three assists and six rebounds.

Some might say that Irving’s offensive out-pouring last night was due to the Wizards being without John Wall, who had a left patella stress injury. But, over the last two seasons, backup point guard A.J. Price had a better defensive rating than Wall while in Indiana.

Despite breaking his hand this off-season, and it being only one game, there is no question that Irving has made a jump from his rookie season and is the “real deal.”

Another player who seemed to pick up where he left off was power forward/center Anderson Varejao, who missed the last 41 games last season after breaking his wrist against the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 10.

Varejao finished one point and one assist short of his first career double-double, collecting a career-high 23 rebounds and a team-record 12 offensive rebounds while becoming the first player to have at least nine points, 23 rebounds, 12 offensive boards and nine assists since Philadelphia 76ers power forward Charles Barkley on March 20, 1987.

Fellow frontcourt starter Tristan Thompson also had an impressive game, recording the 10th double-double of his career with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Thompson also set a career-high in assists with five.

Another bright spot for the Cavs that was muted by the great play of Irving and Varejao was rookie Dion Waiters, who finished with 17 points on six-for-14 shooting, including two-for-five from behind-the-arc, two rebounds and three steals as he outshined Washington Wizards rookie Bradley Beal.

In last June’s NBA Draft, many Cavs fans wanted Cleveland to select Beal, who finished with eight points on two-for-eight shooting, three assists, three rebounds and two turnovers, with its No. 4 pick. But, Washington selected Beal one pick earlier, and the Cavs had to “settle” for Waiters.

Now, one game in, Waiters looks like a “steal” for the Cavs, who should have a dominant backcourt for seasons-to-come. But, for that to happen, they need to take care of the ball better.

Irving and Waiters combined for seven of the team’s 21 turnovers last night, which is unacceptable for your two prominent ball handlers, especially when they had only three assists to go with it.

Turnovers are not new for the Cavs, though. Last season, Cleveland averaged 15.4 turnovers per game, which put them 27th in the league. Cavs coach Byron Scott strongly believes in discipline and expects his players to be smart with the ball.

Although turning the ball over too much won’t send Irving or Waiters to the bench, it will be a topic of conversation until they have better control of the ball.

Another disappointment from last night was the play of the Cavs’ bench.

Except for Daniel Gibson, who finished with 10 points on three-for-five shooting and two-for-four behind-the-arc, Cleveland’s reserves finished with only 13 points on six-for-16 shooting, seven rebounds, three assists and seven turnovers.

Overall, the Cavs are a team that has talent but is developing and missing one or two pieces from really contending. At home, Cleveland should really shine, but, on the road, they should struggle. It will be interesting to see if they can win outside the friendly confines of Quicken Loans Arena.

Sam Drew is a contributing basketball columnist for the Daily Kent Stater and the founder and editor of the Cavaliers blog Dear Dan Gilbert

Follow Sam Drew and his blog on Twitter. @DearDanGilbert