Is Kyrie Irving Having a Better Rookie Year Than LeBron James?

Peter EmerickSenior Writer IIMarch 21, 2012

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are arguably two of the best Cleveland Cavalier players in the history of the franchise.

While Irving's rookie season isn't completely over, his play has him well on his way to joining LeBron as the only Cleveland Cavalier to earn Rookie of the Year in the history of the Cavaliers franchise.

It's clear that LeBron and Irving aren't on the same level, legacy wise, at this point in their respective careers, but in all honesty it's not fair to each player to compare them at this current point in both of their careers.

The more realistic comparison between the two players is to look at what both players did during their rookie season—LeBron in 2003-04 and Irving in 2011-12.

While at first glance, you might think the nod would easily go to LeBron James, who had one of the most dominant rookie years in recent memory, the reality is that it's not that simple.

To come to an educated and holistic understanding of which player had the better rookie campaign in Cleveland, let's start with the production that each player produce during their rookie years.


LeBron James and Kyrie Irving's Rookie Year Statistical Production

Kyrie Irving (through 43 games)—18.7 points, 5.6 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game, with a PER of 21.67 in 31.1 minutes per game.

LeBron James (through 79 games)—20.9 points, 5.9 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game, with a PER of 18.31 in 39.5 minutes per game.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 22:  LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers relaxes before a game against the New Jersey Nets during their game on December 22, 2004 at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  NOTE TO USER:  User exp
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

While the basis for this comparison is somewhat off, with LeBron playing more games than Irving has in his rookie season, the fact that Irving has produced on a "LeBron-esque" level while averaging 8.4 less minutes per game is an impressive feat.

What makes Irving's production that much more impressive is the that Irving is a much smaller player than LeBron.  While they do play different positions, the fact that Irving is still able to score at the level LeBron did, against the same level of competition, at a smaller size, is impressive in and of itself.


LeBron and Irving's Respective Field-Goal Percentages

More telling than just the statistical comparison of each player's production is the level of efficiency that both players shot the ball at during their rookie seasons, and the nod in that regard goes to Kyrie Irving, hands down.

Kyrie Irving (through 43 games)—47.2 FG percent and 40 three-point percent

LeBron James (through 79 games)—41.7 FG percent and 29 three-point percent

It's pretty obvious that Kyrie Irving is the more efficient scorer of the two, shooting 5.5 percent better overall than LeBron James, while averaging just around the same type of statistical production.

That kind of increase in efficiency shooting the ball isn't just a negligible statistic.

The fact that Irving is able to shoot the ball at a higher percentage than LeBron shows that he's a better pure shooter and that he's able to get better scoring opportunities than LeBron, especially when you consider that Irving is averaging only 14.7 field-goal attempts per game, as compared to LeBron's rookie average of 18.9 field-goal attempts per game.

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 19:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during warm ups against the New Jersey Nets at Prudential Center on March 19, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadin
Chris Chambers/Getty Images


Talent around LeBron and Irving During Rookie Seasons

One of the determining factors when it comes to determining which player's rookie year production is more impressive than the other's is the talent that each player had around him.

Five best players on Irving's teamG Ramon Sessions (through 41 games), SF Alonzo Gee, PF Antawn Jamison, C Anderson Varejao and PF Tristan Thompson

Five best players on LeBron's team—G/F Darius Miles, PF Carlos Boozer, C Zydrunas Ilgauskas, F Ricky Davis and G Jeff McInnis 

By just looking at the names, the nod in regards to talent surround each player certainly goes to LeBron, and the statistical production of both teams backs that up.

In 2003-04, the talent around LeBron averaged 66.7 points per game, as compared to the 2011-12 average of 57.6 points per game for the talent around Irving.

While the level of talent on both teams might be somewhat similar, there's no doubt that the talent LeBron had was more established in the league than the talent on Irving's team, which makes Irving's production that much more impressive.


LeBron and Irving's Production per 36 minutes

The clearest picture of which player is having the better rookie year, comes down to examining the difference in each player's production per 36 minutes.

Irving per 36 minutes21.7 points, 6.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 21:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on January 21, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photogra
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

LeBron per 36 minutes—19.1 points, 5.4 assists and five rebounds per game

When it comes to production per 36 minutes, Kyrie Irving is hands down the more productive and efficient player, at least during the span of each player's rookie year campaign.

The argument that Kyrie Irving is having a better rookie year than LeBron James is based on the belief that Irving will continue to produce at the level he has for the remainder of the 2011-12 NBA season.

Through 43 games in the NBA, during their rookie years, LeBron's 2003-04 Cavaliers team was 15-28 whereas Irving's 2011-12 team is 17-26, which takes away the argument of which team was better during each players' rookie season.

While the 2011-12 NBA season isn't over, there's no doubt that Kyrie Irving is playing at a high-caliber level, arguably an even higher-caliber level than LeBron James, which is an impressive feat for the first-year player out of Duke.

Kyrie Irving hasn't exactly helped the Cleveland Cavaliers forget about LeBron James, but he's sure making it a lot easier by playing at a level that has locked him into the 2012 Rookie of the Year honor.

As an avid LeBron James fan it's hard to admit that Kyrie Irving is having a better rookie year, but facts are facts, and there's no doubt that statistically speaking, Irving is having the better rookie campaign.

Thanks for checking out the article.