When a Derrick Williams dunk off a Ricky Rubio lob made ESPN's top 10 plays, Kyrie Irving was one of the first to send a word of congratulations. When Irving made the list Tuesday with his chase-down block of D.J. Augustin, Williams tweeted right back: Good job, keep working.
So yes, they are keeping track of each other.
Williams is the Timberwolves rookie forward, the second pick of the draft. He's a 6-8, athletic, versatile player who vaulted onto the national stage with his performance against Duke in the NCAA's Sweet 16 last spring. You remember it -- a 93-77 shocker of the No. 1-seeded Blue Devils led by Williams' 32-point, 13-rebound performance, one that vaulted him up the NBA draft lottery ladder.
"That game, right there, probably moved me from going seven to 10 into the top three," Williams said.
Irving is the rookie point guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the fellow who, despite an injury-shortened 11-game freshman season at Duke, was taken with the top overall pick by Cleveland.
So there must be some maybe less than good-natured competition between them, right? After all, they went 1-2 in the same draft. There was that quote Williams put out there, as the draft approached. He was asked if he was the best player available. Yes, he said. But what else was he going to say?
And Irving was in that same Sweet 16 game, scoring 28 points.
So you'd think that Friday's game between Minnesota and Cleveland at Target Center is a place where some bad blood might come to boil.
Well, you'd be wrong.
These two guys like each other. They support each other. They have what amounts to a two-man mutual-admiration society. They may have different roles on their respective teams. They might be in different places as far as pressure is concerned. But each is a fan.
Of the other.
Williams on Irving: "He's doing a great job. He's playing a lot of minutes. Overall that team is a lot better."
Irving on Williams: "He's a real athletic big man and that's why he's going to be successful," Irving told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "He's an underrated jump shooter, he's better than what most people give him credit for. He's going to really separate himself in the future and I'm really looking forward to see how he progresses."
Feel the love, and we're not talking about Kevin. "Ever since [the draft] we've been good friends," Williams said. "People say we're arguing and stuff like that. Nah. We're cool."
Friday's game is between the two worst teams in the NBA last season. Both look to be much-improved this year, and for the same basic reason. Both have added a highly anticipated point guard and have a promising forward coming off the bench.
Cleveland had the first and fourth picks. They took Irving first, confident that coach Byron Scott could develop him the way he had helped Chris Paul with New Orleans. Then they took Texas forward Tristan Thompson.
The Wolves, meanwhile, took Williams at No. 2, then coaxed Rubio back from Spain.
Because of this, Irving and Williams have far different roles. Irving is starting, playing big minutes and being asked to resurrect a franchise devastated by the loss of LeBron James. Williams is learning his trade while playing behind Love and Michael Beasley.
Williams said he believes he ended up in the right situation, even while wanting to play more.
"Kyrie is getting to play right away, a lot of minutes," Williams said. "I'm learning behind an All-Star. It's not like I'm playing behind somebody who isn't good. Beasley? Former top-two pick. Love? An All-Star. I'm learning every day, staying patient and just challenging myself every day."
Indeed, while Irving is the top story with the Cavs, Williams has been shielded by all the attention paid to Rubio. It's interesting that Rubio and Irving are the only two rookies on the All-Star ballot.
"I think there is more pressure on Rubio than anybody in this whole league, besides LeBron," Williams said. "And so far he's done a great job."
Irving has been up and down, but has scored 20 points twice and has shown he can distribute the ball.
"I think we both came into good spots," Williams said.
A budding friendship
Irving and Williams first met, briefly, at that NCAA tournament game. They saw each other at the predraft camp. They sat together in the waiting room on draft day. Actually Williams, Irving, Thompson and Kemba Walker all hung together, according to Williams.
And they have kept in touch, thanks to social media, ever since. Friday, they will see each other again, this time in person. After all, it's No. 1 vs. No. 2.
"Those numbers basically go out the window," Irving said.
Indeed, perhaps the only chip either player has on his shoulder is a desire to prove how good they can be.
"We're always looking at how people say this draft isn't very good," Williams said, "trying to pump the rookies up, tell 'em to keep working."