Kyrie Irving was selected number one overall in the 2011 NBA draft this past June after playing only 11 games in the NCAA ranks for the Duke Blue Devils. Though he performed well in those 11 games there were many doubters and detractors that were upset that Irving was said to be the consensus number one pick. I was included in that group; I didn’t think that you could depend on a player who only played in 11 game on the college level. Though he played well, he did not wow me at all with anything that he did. He wasn’t a bad point guard at all but there was nothing, in my opinion, that set him apart from a lot of the others.
I’m sure there are a lot of you who will agree with me there. I didn’t think that there were a lot of better options than Irving for the number one pick but there could have been many considerations. Especially with the fact that Kemba Walker had led his team to tournament championship after tournament championship in unquestionably the best conference in college basketball. There were a lot of things that Kyrie didn’t do on that level and for him to be the consensus number one was ridiculous in a lot of people’s eyes.
Obviously, many NBA scouts agreed with us and for good reason. Irving has always had a smooth game and if he was healthy he probably would’ve been a consistently productive player in the NCAA. His vision was not always the greatest but he knew what the right play was when playing for Duke. He would make the right decision almost all the time; he was obviously a master of the pick and roll. That is the bread and butter of many sets in the NBA. Knowing how to run it is pretty important. As a Wizard fan and avid proponent of John Wall, I wish his PnR skills were like that of Irving’s. In Kentucky there weren’t a lot of PnR sets ran for Wall and crew so he isn’t as adept at it as Irving is. That’s why some supporters of Kyrie Irving think that he will be a more polished pro than Wall will ever be.
While I don’t agree with that statement, of course, I do believe that Kyrie’s skills will get him a long way in this league if he can remain healthy. In comparison to Wall, Rose, and other point guards that have been taken high in recent drafts, Irving will never have their elite athleticism. He doesn’t jump out to you on the screen; in fact his game can be slow and boring to some of the casual basketball watchers out there. He will lull you to sleep with his hesitations and crossovers, but they will get him to the rim and that’s all that matters.
In comparison to Irving, a lot of the other top guard picks were very raw when coming into the league. They didn’t really have all of the necessary components to be an effective point guard in the NBA. Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, and John Wall came into the league without really knowing how to shoot. There are some guards, like Rajon Rondo, who still can’t find a consistent jump shot in the game. Irving came into the league with a very valuable weapon; that weapon is the mid range jumper. It opens up a lot of other offense for Irving. When people are forced to guard you honestly from the 3 point line down you don’t really need to have the ability to blow by them. They’ll often play you so tightly that it will make it easier for you to get by.
According to Hoopdata, Irving shoots 40% from 16 to 23 feet. That’s a great percentage for a rookie. If he can keep it up there is no doubt in my mind that he will win rookie of the year. Irving is also shooting at 38% from beyond the arch right now. For a vet a 35 mark would be a good spot; most rookies don’t even hit beyond 30%. I know it’s a small sample size because we’ve only been through 13 games this season; by no means do I want to hyperbolize Irving’s numbers. I just merely want to point out the fact that he’s playing extremely well from a lot of areas on the floor thus far in the season.
Another astounding statistic that I found on Irving is his TS% and eFG percentage. True Shooting percentage takes into account all shots taken including free throws and three-point shots. It’s an overall look of the percentage of shots that you make a game. Effective Field Goal percentage adjusts to the fact that 3 point shots are worth more than 2 points shots and adjusts the data to that.
I used Basketball-Reference to compare Irving to other top guard taken in recent years. I used former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, and John Wall. So far in the season, Irvings eFG percentage has been 52 and the rest of the guys I compared him to don’t even compare. They weren’t even over 50% in their rookie years. The closest was Derrick Rose at 48 percent; 4 points lower than Irving right now. Irving’s TS percentage is also higher than the rest of them. He’s shooting 57 percent in true shooting percentage right now; the closest player to him was Chris Paul at 54 percent. Irving has been having a stellar year thus far; I don’t know if he would be able to keep this play up but if he could it would be one of the best shooting seasons I’ve seen a rookie point guard have.
It’s especially surprising that Irving is playing so well because he’s 9th in the NBA in usage rate right now. That’s a lot of responsibility on a rookie on such a bad team. They’re one game under .500 right running most of the offense through Kyrie. He’s also posting a PER of 21.8 right now which is well above average. If Irving can keep playing like this then he will, no doubt, get rookie of the year. More importantly, though, he may validate some of his proponents and make guys like me look foolish. Right now, those Chris Paul comparisons don’t look too far off. Just saying.