Is Kyrie Irving the Best Rookie Point Guard Since Chris Paul?


April 20, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA: Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) brings the ball up court during the game against the New York Knicks at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Eric P. Mull-USPRESSWIRE

Because of the meteoric rise of young point guards, the position, as a whole, is absolutely loaded. Realistically, teams shouldn’t expect to win consistently without a formidable point guard. Teams are pressed into guarding athletic freaks (ie: Derrick Rose, John Wall, Russell Westbrook), perspicacious passers (ie: Jose Calderon, Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Ricky Rubio), adept scorers (ie: Tyreke Evans, Jeremy Lin) on a nightly basis. And I didn’t even mention the perennially injured Stephen Curry and MVP candidate Tony Parker. Like I said. Loaded.

Add No. 1 overall pick, Kyrie Irving, to the list. At the ripe age of 20-years, Irving already belongs in the same elite company. If you factor in his rookie status — don’t forget, because of the extended lockout, that he missed an entire years worth of training camp — Iriving is the most advance rookie point guard in, well, the last five years. At least.

For the purpose of this piece, I’m using offensive-defensive differential, Player Efficiency Rating, win shares/48 minutes, offensive rating, defensive rating, true shooting percentage, assist percentage, turnover percentage, usage rate and various clutch statistics. Yeah. It’s pretty extensive. Hopefully I’ll sufficiently support my thesis or, at the very least, entertain you with my porous writing.

Kyrie Irving: +3.58 O-D, 21.18 PER, .127 WS/48, 109 ORtg, 109 DRtgStephen Curry: +2.05 O-D, 16.23 PER, .077 WS/48, 107 ORtg, 111 DRtgTyreke Evans: -6.78 O-D, 18.13 PER, .097 WS/48, 107 ORtg, 110 DRtgChris Paul: 21.9 PER, .178 WS/48, 114 ORtg, 104 DRtgDerrick Rose: -7.53 O-D, 16.00 PER, .078 WS/48, 108 ORtg, 113 DRtgJohn Wall: -3.63 O-D, 15.85 PER, .041 WS/48, 100 ORtg, 111 DRtgRussell Westbrook: +3.91 O-D, 15.12 PER, .035 WS/48, 99 ORtg, 111 DRtg

Judging by the numbers, Wall and Westbrook had fine rookie years. It’s just that, when you compare them to these guys, they don’t look too great. Westbrook has since leapt into the elite and Wall, despite his athleticism, hasn’t taken a huge step in the same direction. Still, he has a long career ahead of him. Anyway. Interestingly the Bulls, during Rose’s rookie year, were actually worse when Rose was on the court. I’m guessing that has probably changed. Curry and Evans — loosely defined as a point — came out in the same draft as Westbrook and actually performed a lot better. Evans’ large 2 guard body frame allowed him to get to the rim with impunity. Curry differed in his approach — his diminutive frame wouldn’t withstand constant forays to the rim over an entire season — choosing, instead, to pepper his opponents with a litany of perimeter shots. Both Curry and Evans were above-average rookies. Yet, even so, they still don’t quite match up, empirically, to Irving. The only legitimate contender would appear to be Paul. CP3 posted a slightly higher PER as Irving and his superior offensive and defensive ratings put him over the top.

Apr 9, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (left) and Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (50) during the second half at the FedEx Forum. Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 94-85. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

Kyrie Irving: 56.5 TS%, 36.9 AST%, 16.2 TOV%, 28.6 USG%Stephen Curry: 56.8 TS%, 24.6 AST%, 16.5 TOV%, 21.8 USG%Tyreke Evans: 52.9 TS%, 26.1 AST%, 13.6 TOV%, 26.2 USG%Chris Paul: 54.6 TS%, 38.2 AST%, 13.7 TOV%, 22.2 USG%Derrick Rose: 51.6 TS%, 28.8 AST%, 13.3 TOV%, 22.6 USG%John Wall: 49.4 TS%, 36.0 AST%, 18.6 TOV%, 23.8 USG%Russell Westbrook: 48.9 TS%, 27.5 AST%, 17.6 TOV%, 25.8 USG%

Again, I don’t mean to pick on Wall and Westbrook — both were fine rookies — but their numbers don’t belong. Although I don’t view Irving as quite the shooter as Curry or Paul, his shooting efficiency is in the same realm. He isn’t as careful with the ball as CP3 but his assist rate is nearly as high. I don’t see Irving averaging 10 assists per game but it appears that he does have the ability to do so. At this stage of his career, he’s looking to score off a lot of pick-and-rolls so it’s within reason that we could see his assist totals rise as he becomes more comfortable with the NBA pace. Also, we see that Irving is being asked to handle the ball often. He hasn’t shown Cleveland any reason to cut his workload which also bodes pretty well for his future progression. Especially considering Irving is putting up ridiculous numbers during clutch moments (loosely defined as in the fourth quarter or overtime down by five points) …

Jan 13, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) drives past Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Anthony Parker (18) in the second half of the game at the Staples Center. 97-92. Lakers won Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Kobe is synonymous with the definition of clutch … will Irving be in the near future?

Kyrie Irving: 56.4 points per 48 minutes, 8.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 4.3 TO, 54.4 FG%, 66.7 3P%Stephen Curry: 26.0 points, 7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.9 TO, 38.6 FG%, 25.0 3P%Tyreke Evans: 36.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 3.5 TO, 40.9 FG%, 37.5 3P%Chris Paul*: N/ADerrick Rose: 29.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.3 TO, 43.9 FG%, 33.3 3P%John Wall: 28.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 4.7 TO, 34.5 FG%, 25.0 3P%Russell Westbrook: 23.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 4.0 TO, 29.2 FG%, 0.00 3P%

Now this is where Kyrie Irving’s rookie season differentiates itself from the other rookie seasons. His gawdy 56.4 points per 48 minutes during “clutch” moments is ridiculous and, outside of a couple seasons from LeBron and Kobe, it represents one of the most impressive displays of mental fortitude when the game matters most. For crying out loud, he’s a rookie. Irving carves up defenses — when their singular focus is on the best player and intensity ratchets up to the highest level possible — at an elite rate. I understand that clutch statistics represent a small sample size to gleem from but I highly doubt that his clutch numbers are a fluke. Not only is he leading the league in clutch points per 48 minutes but he’s doing so by sheer efficiency from the field. The other rookies have impressive numbers in their own right but their shooting percentages aren’t even in the same realm as Kyrie. Unfortunately, clutch statistics weren’t available during Paul’s rookie year. If anyone can come close to Kyrie’s clutch numbers at the point guard position, it would probably be Paul.

Conclusion. Irving drew comparisons to Chris Paul before the draft. I, like many draft pundits and NBA fans, felt this represented his absolute ceiling. I certainly didn’t expect him to play as well as the best point guard in my generation. I didn’t include shot location data in this post (because it was already running a little long) but Irving shoots well from every part of the floor as well. It may seem like extreme hyperbole to declare Irving the best rookie point guard in, well, awhile. But, there’s some reason to believe that the best is yet to come.