Kyrie Irving: 10 Bold Predictions for Sensational Rookie's Stretch Run

Michael KeefeContributor IIIFebruary 17, 2012

Kyrie Irving: 10 Bold Predictions for Sensational Rookie's Stretch Run

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    In 2011, the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Draft Lottery. Every time their new rookie star Kyrie Irving takes the court, they must feel like they keep hitting the jackpot.

    Irving has been everything the Cavaliers could have hoped for when they selected him with the first overall pick in the most recent draft, and then some. He displays all of the strengths he was known for in college and high school, such as excellent shooting and ball-handling.

    On top of those known strengths, Irving continues to surprise onlookers by excelling in areas which were question marks before he took the court for the first time in the NBA. Irving is extremely athletic, with tremendous body control as he drives to the hoop. He is extremely quick with the ball and is an outstanding passer.

    Through the first part of the season, the Cavaliers surely must feel like they have their foundation to build upon in order to get back to being a contender in the NBA. Kyrie Irving plays the game like a crafty veteran; his leadership and phenomenal play set the tone for the rest of his teammates.

    So what's next for Irving and the Cavaliers?

    The following is a list of 10 predictions for Irving during the stretch run of the season.

Irving Will Stay Healthy

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    Injury history was a concern for Kyrie Irving when he was drafted by the Cavaliers. After missing the majority of his only season at Duke, durability seemed like it may be one of the few drawbacks for the top selection in the draft.

    Throughout this season, Cavs fans have held their breath as Irving has slashed to the hoop and taken some big hits. However, hit after hit, Irving continued to get up and keep playing, showing an element of toughness that wasn't apparent when he was selected by the Cavaliers. 

    And then, a Dwyane Wade knee to the back of the head knocked Irving out of his first game, and caused him to miss nearly a week with a concussion.

    After missing a few games, Irving returned to the starting lineup this week against the Pacers and continued the torrid pace he was on before he got hurt. 

    The concussion was a freak incident for Irving, who is clearly more durable than most people thought. For the remainder of the season, Irving will continue to play his aggressive game, take hits and keep getting back up. 

    He won't miss any significant time for the rest of the year.

Irving Will Continue to See Increased Minutes

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    Kyrie Irving was named the starting point guard from day one, and though he got the distinction of starter, coach Byron Scott made sure not to overuse the rookie early.

    For quite some time, Irving's minutes per game hovered around 20. As his game continued to improve and he got more and more comfortable in his new offense, those minutes began to rise. Currently, Irving is averaging just over 30 minutes per game for the Cavaliers, which seems to be a perfect number for a star rookie. 

    However, as injuries have mounted for the Cavs, especially at shooting guard with Anthony Parker and Daniel Gibson both battling injuries, Irving's minutes have continued climbing. Over the past 10 games, Irving is averaging more than 35 minutes per game.

    Scott seems to prefer keeping Irving rested and is very aware of the rigors an NBA season can have on a first year player, but he's running out of options with so many players getting hurt.

    As the season goes on and Kyrie continues to improve, his minutes will continue to increase, as Byron Scott will want to have his best player on the court and as others battle injuries.  

Irving Will Continue to See More Time as a Shooting Guard

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    Normally, the types of injuries the Cavaliers have suffered at the shooting guard position would really put a team in a pickle. 

    For the Cavaliers, although they would prefer to have everyone healthy, those injuries have allowed Byron Scott to experiment with different lineups and pairings on the court. One of those successful pairings so far has been Ramon Sessions as the point guard with Kyrie Irving as the shooting guard. 

    This pairing does a couple things for the Cavs.

    First of all, Sessions has more time in Scott's system, and is currently better than Irving at running the plays the coaching staff calls. Sessions is a little better with the ball at this point and has tremendous court vision. Irving can get first-hand experience with Sessions as they both are on the court together. 

    The other thing this pairing does is allow Irving to move more without the ball. He has gotten some open looks coming off screens and some spot-up jump shots because Sessions and the rest of the team have been good at swinging the ball to find their young star teammate.

    With the nagging injuries to Parker and Gibson, Kyrie Irving has shifted over and created a backcourt with Sessions which can push the ball and run the offense very well for the Cavaliers. Expect more of that as the season continues.

Irving Will Have a 50-Point Game

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    After starting the year trying to really be the facilitator for the team, Kyrie Irving was asked by Byron Scott to look to score more for the Cavaliers. Since then, Irving's scoring numbers have continued to climb, while he has been able to maintain his efficiency.

    Irving is averaging more than 18 points per game while shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor and over 42 percent from beyond the three-point line. With the arsenal of moves Irving has with the ball in his hands, he is able to score in nearly every way possible. There isn't a spot on the floor from which Irving can't make a bucket.

    The other impressive thing about Irving's offensive game to this point is his ability to take games over with his scoring abilities. He has that rare ability to get hot, to the point where everything he throws at the rim seems to go in. It almost reminds you of a previous number one pick for the Cavaliers...

    As he continues to focus on scoring, Irving will have a breakout game. He will be the first rookie since Brandon Jennings to score 50 points in an NBA game. 

Irving Will Average More Than 1 Steal Per Game for the Season

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    It is well documented how good Kyrie Irving has been for the Cavaliers on the offensive end of the court this season. 

    Defensively, Irving hasn't exactly been a superstar, but he's been solid and he's been rapidly improving. As he gets used to the speed of the players on the other teams at the NBA level, he will continue to improve his defensive efforts and become a very solid defensive point guard.

    One defensive ability that has been noticeably improving lately is Irving's tendency to read passes and jump into the passing lane for steals.

    Currently, Irving is averaging just under one steal per game. As the season goes on, he will continue to ramp up his defensive efforts and get that steal number up over one. 

    This impacts the game drastically for the Cavaliers. Every team hopes their leading steal man is the point guard, because that means that the person with the ball after a turnover is the person who is trusted most to make good decisions with the ball.

    As Irving continues to take the ball away from the other teams, it will lead to easy baskets for the Cavaliers. 

Irving Will Finish Better Than 40 Percent from Three-Point Range

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    One of the predicted strengths of Kyrie Irving heading into his first NBA season was his jump shooting ability, though it wasn't clear whether he would be effective as a three-point threat in the NBA.

    After the first part of the season, there aren't many people questioning that anymore. 

    Currently shooting better than 42 percent from beyond the arc, Irving has been sensational shooting the ball from deep. To add to that, Irving doesn't fall in love with his three-point shot. Many players in the NBA will make one or two three-pointers and then continue to shoot them for the remainder of the game.

    Irving makes his outside shots and looks to continue driving the ball to the hoop. His ability to keep defenses off-balance directly leads to open looks from beyond the three-point arc for Irving. All he needs to do from there is make his shots.

    Boy, has he been good at that part so far. 

    With his style of play, there's no reason to think that his shooting numbers will fall off as the season goes on. Irving will finish his rookie year better than 40 percent from three-point range. 

Irving Will Become More and More Vocal with His Teammates

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    For all of the noise Kyrie Irving has made on the court this year with his phenomenal play, he's been very quiet off the court. Irving doesn't exactly have a boisterous and bubbly personality. 

    No, Irving prefers to quietly go about his business of being the best rookie in the NBA this season.

    As a rookie, one of the toughest challenges is finding your place on your new team. Irving, a 19-year old rookie, took a little time to find his role as a leader on a team with several veterans. It is more and more apparent that his teammates look at him as the leader, and he is starting to respond to that role. 

    A couple of examples of Irving's increased leadership include his encouragement of teammate Mychel Thompson before Thompson made his first career start.

    Another example that stands out in my head was in a game a couple weeks ago. In a big moment of this specific game, Omri Casspi was fouled, went to the line and missed his first free throw. Immediately, Irving ran in and gave Casspi some encouraging words. Casspi promptly nailed the second free throw. 

    Irving's style isn't to yell and ostracize his teammates, but rather to stay calm and encourage them, even during tough stretches. That is a huge quality to have in a young star, as it will attract more players who will want to play with someone like that.

Irving Will Average More Than 20 Points Per Game

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    As Kyrie Irving has been getting used to the speed and pace of the NBA style of basketball, he has hit very few speed bumps. Especially in the scoring department. 

    Irving is able to weave in and out of defenders and find open spots all over the court. He is an excellent finisher at the rim, a great mid-range shooter and a very good three-point shooter. There's really nothing he can't do when it comes to scoring. 

    Through the early part of his career in the NBA, Irving has been able to average more than 18 points per game, which is a great accomplishment for a rookie. 

    With Byron Scott encouraging Irving to take more of the scoring responsibility onto his shoulders, he should have no problem increasing that scoring average. Kyrie will finish his rookie season in the NBA averaging more than 20 points per game. 

Irving Will Average More Than 7 Assists Per Game

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    To go along with his tremendous ability to score the ball, Kyrie Irving is proving to be a wizard with his passing. Every game, Irving makes one or two passes that make you just shake your head in amazement. 

    One of Irving's greatest strengths is his court vision and his ability to create offense for others by making smart passes exactly when they should be made.

    To start the year, Irving struggled a little with his passing, as he was trying to make passes that just won't fly in the NBA. As he has experienced the higher level of defense, he has been able to hone his passing abilities to make them as successful as possible. 

    Players like Anderson Varejao, Alonzo Gee and Semih Erden have all benefited from Irving's incredible ability to break down defenses and get them open looks. 

    As the year continues, Irving will become more and more comfortable with what kinds of passes he can make, and his assist numbers will continue to rise. He'll finish the year averaging more than seven assists per game. 

Irving Will Win Rookie of the Year

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    Whether this is a bold prediction or a statement of the obvious is up for discussion. Kyrie Irving will win the Rookie of the Year Award for this NBA season.

    Irving has been the best rookie so far this year, and with the recent struggles of Ricky Rubio, Irving has been pulling farther and farther away from the pack. 

    Kyrie is leading all rookies in scoring, and no rookie means more to his team than Irving does to the Cavs. The team's transformation from a disaster and a pushover last season, to a competitive and tough team this year can be credited in large part to the play of Irving. 

    As a rookie, Irving has been able to set the tone for the entire Cavaliers team, which has quite a few players who are now playing better than they ever had played in their careers. He has the ability to make his teammates better; that's rare in a rookie. 

    As it stands, Irving is putting up similar rookie numbers as several perennial All-Stars put up during their first seasons. The future is bright for both Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    This season started with the Cavaliers hitting the lottery. 

    It will end with Irving winning some well-earned hardware.