When Kyrie Irving spun through a slew of Celtics last Sunday to make the game-winning bucket, it meant more than simply picking up another win for his Cavs. That shot seemed like a dagger – it pretty much ended any debate about who the top rookie from last year’s draft class is going to be this season.
If it weren’t for that darn 2009 draft hold-over Ricky Rubio, Irving would all but have the Rookie of the Year title sewn up. And while it shouldn’t be that big a shock considering he was the #1 pick and last year’s draft class was incredibly weak, few could’ve predicted that Irving would be this great this quickly.
Going into last year’s draft Kyrie Iriving was one of the most scrutinized players who was a near lock to go #1 that there’d ever been. And frankly, that was somewhat understandable. First and foremost, most people had seen less of him than any collegiate #1 pick ever.
Injuries limited him to only eleven games in his one season at Duke. While he was most often the best player on the court in those limited games, he wasn’t jaw-droppingly amazing or freakishly athletic the way that other recent #1 picks (Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, or even John Wall) were. He also skipped any pre-draft athletic testing. There were a fair number of experts (including some of us at NBADraft.net) who thought the Cavs would be much better off drafting a combo of Derrick Williams and Brandon Knight over Irving and Tristan Thompson.
But Cavs GM Chris Grant was undeterred in his belief in Irving. Part of this may have been a fear of history repeating itself. Grant was the Assistant GM in Atlanta when the Hawks took Marvin Williams over Chris Paul and Deron Williams. He saw how whiffing on picking up an elite PG can set a franchise back for years. (And if you want to get even more specific, he learned how you shouldn’t draft a SF named Williams instead of said elite PGs.)
Irving has proved all the skeptics wrong so far. He’s shown an elite ability to consistently cut through the lane and get to the rim. He’s flashed the ability to distribute (though his assist numbers don’t exactly reflect it because, after all, he does have to pass the ball to other Cavaliers). In a league that is currently heavy on PG talent, Irving is already laying claim as one of the league’s best. If he can stay healthy, he’s sure to make the Cavs look great for taking him first.
(On a personal note, I saw as a Pacers fan what Irving could do three games into the season. In that game, a Pacers OT win, he seemed to be able to get to the rim whenever he wanted. By the end of the game I was legitimately afraid of him driving. In those terms, only Derrick Rose puts the same kind of terror in me as an opposing fan.)
But Irving’s quick maturation isn’t only important because it gives the Cavs a legitimate franchise building block, it’s also noteworthy because we may be headed for an drought of elite PG prospects. There currently doesn’t appear to be a franchise PG coming into the draft anytime soon.
Despite an overall class that’s insanely loaded, there isn’t one among the many players in the 2012 draft class.
Austin Rivers has clearly confirmed that he’s a SG and not a PG this year at Duke.
North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall has all the traits you’d want in distributing PG, but is almost completely unable to score himself.
Washington’s Tony Wroten Jr. displayed an ability to penetrate the D and score at the rim that rivals Tyreke Evans, but he unfortunately also possesses Evans’s sub-par decision making and shooting ability (he’s barely shooting above 55% from the FT line). He is the potential one-and-done prospect most in need of a second collegiate year to develop his game.
Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague has struggled to live up to the hype and his turnovers and decision making are at best a work in progress. He’ll need a strong finish to the season in order to cement a spot in the first round.
Myck Kabongo of Texas has had a disappointing season showing few flashes of his playmaking potential (take, for example, the fact that Texas had zero assists in the first half of Monday’s loss to Missouri) and scouts aren’t sure he’s even a first round pick right now.
There also aren’t any surefire PGs dotting the high school landscape at the moment. While there’s always the chance of a prospect making the leap and rising to that rarefied level, nothing is looking too promising at the moment.
All this makes the Irving pick look all the better. While teams may be scrambling in vain to fill the PG hole in their starting lineup in the next few years, the Cavs can rest easy knowing they’ve got their man.