OAKLAND, Calif. -- LeBron James prides himself on being not just a student of the NBA but also a historian.
As he prepares for Game 1 of his sixth Finals on Thursday he believes viewers are going to witness the mastery of what sometimes is overlooked as a basic skill. According to James, the series between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors features two of the best dribblers in league history in Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry.
"They are two of the best ball handlers that this league has ever seen," James said Wednesday at Oracle Arena, where the teams held their final practice before the start of the series.
"Their ability to make shots off the handle, Steph's ability to use his handle to get off shots, those step-backs and Kyrie's ability to be crafty, use his ability to get into the lane and make shots. When you have a handle like that, you can pretty much get any shot you want, and they both show you that. With their speed, their change of pace, their ballhandling, and then their ability to shoot the ball. They can absolutely just shoot the rock."
Curry and Irving have different styles but also different agendas when handling the ball. Curry often uses his skills to create space to get off shots. Combined with his quick release, it is a major reason Curry is able to continue to get clean looks despite being the focal point of most defensive game plans.
Irving specializes more in driving and using his ability to change speed and direction to open up lanes and angles to get to the rim or draw fouls.
"Not being afraid to try that move that your coach tells you not to do, like being on a fast break and doing double moves and your coach wants you to do a regular layup. I don't believe in that. I believe in having creativity in the game and bringing excitement to what everyone kind of is afraid to do, I'm willing to do it," Irving said.
"I think Steph has that same mindset, that fearless, whatever at the given moment, instincts. It would be a crazy play for someone else, but for us it's like it's just the game. So this is a true art form that I truly appreciate and love that we get recognition for it."
Irving said that for years he's studied the dribbling moves of great players who came before him and then tried to mimic the moves during practice. To this day, he will look at YouTube videos of younger players and see what he can learn.
Curry wasn't ready to distance himself from others in the league and mentioned Irving, Jamal Crawford and Chris Paul as players who are exceptional ball handlers. But he agrees that being fearless is an important weapon when trying to get the opponent off balance.
"It takes good hand-eye coordination, creativity and to be able to have an imagination about what moves you want to try," Curry said.
"You have to have confidence. Because in games you can obviously do drill work and skill work in the offseason and even during the season to kind of get your skills right, but if you don't have confidence when you go out there to execute those moves or try to get from Point A to Point B, it's kind of all for nothing."