You’re probably reading that headline and wondering what the point of the post is. The point is that after a seven month layoff from organized basketball, Friday was the first time we’ve seen Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight play at the NBA level. As both players will have a huge impact on the directions of their teams, it’s only fair to take a look at what they showed in their first outing, even if it was preseason.
Oddly, their perceived roles were reversed in the opener. It was Irving who looked very much like a scorer and Knight who flashed playmaking and passing skills.
Irving looked as polished as advertised, with strong ability to manage the offense. His jumper looked clean and he had good ability to finish at the rim. He struggled with ball pressure from Knight, who dogged him most of the game, obviously taking it personally, but Irving was still good enough to win the individual matchup and the game.
Knight, on the other hand, looked nothing like the score-only gunner he was as a point guard at Kentucky. Knight’s drive and kick was particularly good, using his quickness to get into the paint and whipping it to perimeter shooters. He definitely has scoring ability, but he also showed touch on some passes including a scoop pass in transition for a dunk assist. Defensively he was engaged and active, notably stealing the ball from Irving on an inbounds pass, then finishing in transition over the No. 1 pick.
Maybe more interesting than either point guard’s night was the work of Tristan Thompson for the Cavaliers. After a shakey first half, Thompson came alive in the second. He showed a good range, his body showed itself to be both more muscled and leaner than when he was drafted, and his length was evident when he took off from a step inside the free throw lane and jammed it on a dump-off. He was active on defense. He also got completely rocked on a block by Samardo Samuels, but he’s a rookie.
Again, this could look baffling in three months, all three players could be terrible, Irving could lead rookies in assists, Knight could be too shot-happy. But in their first showing on an NBA floor, all three players gave us something to be excited about.