With all the talk going around about who is the best point guard in the league, I think it’s fair that Kyrie Irving’s name should be thrown into these discussions. The ceiling is unreachable at this point for the reigning Rookie of the Year, as the 2011 No. 1 pick showed that he can be a scoring machine, clutch shooter and great leader at the NBA level.
The Cavaliers have struck draft gold in two of their worst seasons (third and fourth respectively) to land No. 1 picks in Irving and LeBron James (2003), and this time around Cleveland will make all the right moves when it comes to making sure Irving stays in Wine and Gold his whole career. The former Duke Blue Devil knows that he can’t make the same mistakes that James made in his seven years as a Cav. He has already expressed interest in getting involved in the community, is acting like a member of the city rather than a celebrity and seems to really enjoy Cleveland and the fans.
The organization is starting to put the right teammates around Irving for the team to be successful. Think about the drafts that the Cavs had following choosing James: Luke Jackson (10th) in 2004, Shannon Brown (25th) and Daniel Gibson (42nd) in 2006 and Christain Eyenga (30th) and Danny Green (46th) in 2009.
The Cavaliers depended too much on the play of James and traded away draft picks in multiple drafts, often not even having any picks at all. The front office has since realized that mistake and is now rebuilding through the process of acquiring draft picks. They drafted potential future starting pieces in Dion Waiters (most likely this upcoming season) and Tyler Zeller.
Irving’s player efficiency rating clocked n at a 21.49 last season, ranking him 23rd overall in the NBA. The PER measures a players per-minute performance, putting an average score at 15.00. Irving excelled whenever he was in the game, and averaged 30.5 minutes. He shined when it came to crunch time and was ranked as one of the highest scorers in the final three minutes of a game, finishing only behind All-Star point guard. What the Cavaliers didn’t have in LeBron was a player they could depend on game in and game out to deliver when the score was tight and the time was limited.
A problem that Irving does have though is his turnover average. He coughed up the ball 3.1 times per game, totaling 160 turnovers for the season. That is something that he needs to work on if he wants to be considered one of the best point guards in the Association. He can creating scoring opportunities by himself if he keeps the ball under control, as the select few who watched the Cavaliers last season saw Irving slice and dice his way to the hoop against puzzled defenders. He has the potential and the right mentor in head coach Byron Scott to make something special of his career.
Expectations will be high next season, as the star of the Cavaliers averaged 18.5 points, 5.4 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals in his rookie season. Not many first-year point guards have been able to match the numbers that he put up, as the last great rook one guard to take the league by storm was Chris Paul. Paul, arguably, is the world’s best point guard and was mentored by Scott as well. Like I said, the ceiling is incredibly high for Irving.
Irving’s point average may stay about the same, but with the addition of teammates through the draft and free agency, they will be able to take a lot of the scoring weight off his shoulders. Besides Antawn Jamison, there wasn’t a player on the Cavs roster who was a prolific offensive producer. With Derrick Rose likely out for the season and Tony Parker and Steve Nash (although still able to make a big impact) growing old, I think it’s fair to pair Irving with Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Russel Westbrook as the top five point guards in the NBA.
The summer setback with him hitting the padded wall didn’t stop Irving from turning heads in the offseason. As a member of the Team USA Select Team, Irving went up against some of the NBA’s best and even had them thinking that Irving could man the ship of Team USA in 2016.
That may be a far ways off, but at least we have Irving’s sophomore campaign to find out if he belongs with the best.