Kyrie Irving could become first teammate to outscore LeBron James


INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — For most of the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ championship run last spring, Kyrie Irving had the highest scoring average on the team. It wasn’t until LeBron James finished the NBA Finals with 109 points in Games 5-7 that his postseason average pushed past Irving’s — 26.2 points per game for James and 25.3 points per game for Irving.

It was only a 21-game sample size — and James had the higher scoring average in their first two full regular seasons as teammates — but it could have represented a shift in how the Cavs’ offense is planned to flow moving forward.

In the Cavs’ 3-0 start to the season, Irving is averaging 25 points to James’ 21 points. Furthermore, Irving is averaging more shots (21 compared to James’ 15.3), while James is averaging more assists (10 compared to Irving’s 4).

James’ career scoring average of 27.2 has led to the 11th-most points in league history. He needs just 51 points to move past Hakeem Olajuwon (26,946) for 10th all time.

James is an elite scorer. But so is Irving, author of those memorable 55- and 57-point games two seasons ago.

If the early-season trend with Irving continues, it would be the first time in James’ 14-year career that a teammate averaged more points than him for a season. Dwyane Wade came closest, averaging 25.5 points to James’ 26.7 points in 2010-11.

Judging by the way James describes him, it wouldn’t be surprising if Irving becomes that guy.

“Kyrie, he doesn’t have any weaknesses … especially offensively,” James said Monday after practice when asked if teams have been cutting off Irving’s driving lanes more than in the past. “He’s been great so far. If guys take away his driving lanes, he’s able to create off the dribble, make pull-up jumpers. He can shoot the 3-ball too, so, he doesn’t have any weaknesses offensively, so it doesn’t matter.”

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue downplayed the significance of the offensive pecking order, throwing Kevin Love into the mix with James and Irving as another player who could lead Cleveland in the scoring column any given game.

“I mean, we have three great players,” Lue said. “You know, three All-Stars and all three are dynamic, so every night is going to be something different. I can’t say who is going to score 30 tomorrow or who is going to score 25 the next night. It’s just how the game goes. Kevin, he has [favorable] matchups. Kyrie has matchups every night. Bron has matchups every night. So it can be either one of those guys.

“It’s just what two guys have it going at that time or what one player has it going at that moment, that’s who we tend to ride. So I can’t say who is going to lead the team in scoring, but all three can score the basketball at will. So we’ll just see who has it going that night and who has a favorable matchup.”

Love is averaging 20 points per game during the Cavs’ 3-0 start.

An egalitarian offense has been the Cavs’ best bet, anyway. In the past two seasons, when the three stars all score 20-plus points in a game, Cleveland is 15-1 (regular season and playoffs), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Irving says that being the team’s leading scorer is not a priority.

“No,” he said. “Not at all. It’s just really about winning ballgames in the position that we’re in from game to game. I think the wealth can be shared around no matter what throughout this team. That’s what makes us dangerous. I’m pretty sure we will see LeBron go for a LeBron-like game, not to say that he’s not doing that right now, but he doesn’t necessarily need to do it right now.”

Especially not with the way Irving is playing.

“I think the sky’s the limit for the kid,” James said of Irving. “He’s only [24] years old, so he has so much more room for improvement. He hasn’t even gotten to his prime yet.”

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