Kyrie Irving has been in Collin Sexton’s shoes — and his No. 2 Cavs jersey.
In 2011, a season after LeBron James had left Cleveland for the first time in his career, Irving was drafted No. 1 overall by the Cavaliers. Hailed as the franchise’s newest cornerstone, the 6-foot-3 point guard out of Duke experienced three consecutive losing seasons to begin his career. Things, of course, changed when James returned and sparked a streak of four straight visits to the NBA Finals. But, as the story goes, he ended up leaving Cleveland again in July. Irving, who had been traded to the Celtics the offseason prior, was long gone at that point, too.
The focus once again pivoted to the team’s latest lottery pick: Sexton. The 19-year-old rookie, who was selected with the infamous last-remaining Nets pick that was included in the package for Irving, is now getting his turn at shouldering the burden of being the face of a struggling organization. Just a quarter into Cleveland’s season, Sexton has already witnessed the firing of coach Ty Lue and the trade of sharpshooter Kyle Korver en route to a 4-17 record.
So, what’s Irving’s advice for Sexton?
“Focusing on the things that he can control,” Irving said. “Obviously getting better every single day in the gym, but having that same attitude and mindset.”
Irving was a big fan of Sexton’s energy to open the Celtics-Cavs game Friday night.
“Coming out in the first quarter and shooting as many shots as he did and proving a point against me, I loved it,” he said after Boston’s 128-95 rout at TD Garden. “[There were] obviously some very makeable shots on his end that could have gone in easily, and I think he probably would have been in a different rhythm.”
Sexton hoisted a team-high 18 shot attempts — seven of which came in the first quarter — in Cleveland’s losing effort. Only six ended up falling, but Sexton matched Irving in field-goal attempts throughout the first half. He finished with 13 points, while Irving racked up 29 before the lopsided score sidelined him for the final quarter. Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson wasn’t surprised by the aggression from both sides, though he disapproves of the constant comparisons between the two guards.
“That’s too much pressure,” Thompson told Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor Friday. “That’s like Golden State drafting some guard and expecting him to be Steph [Curry]. That’s like drafting Zion Williamson and expect him to be LeBron James. Come on, man. Let LeBron be LeBron. Let Kyrie be Kyrie. Let Collin be Collin. You know what I’m saying? It’s a disservice to the kid.”
“Kyrie, he did great things in Cleveland, close that chapter and let Collin write his own book,” Thompson continued. “If he lives in someone else’s shadow, it’s not fair. He didn’t ask for where to get picked. They picked him. It’s unfair to him, like chasing a ghost. That can hurt someone’s development. Let him be the best Collin Sexton he can be.”
Irving said he’s appreciative that he’s approaching the point in his career where younger players are being compared to him. His comments weren’t as targeted as Thompson’s, but he echoed a similar sentiment.
“I always like those guys that build their own identities, just like I have, but take away from some of the great things other players have done in order to incorporate into their game and get better,” Irving said. “Every single year, you see great players in our league consistently get better every single year and prove us how great they are. It’s based on how consistent they are.”