The Cleveland Cavaliers struck gold for the second time in less than a decade when they drafted Kyrie Irving with the first pick in the 2011 NBA draft. Like former Cav LeBron James before, Irving convincingly won Rookie of the Year while simultaneously silencing critics and transforming a franchise.
This age has been considered the "Era of the Point Guard," as there are multiple All-Star caliber point guards, more than ever before. Looking at every elite team, almost every one has an elite point guard or elite point guard-like player.
Cleveland may have the next elite point guard in Kyrie Irving.
There is a new breed of point guard in the NBA. Largely gone is the John Stockton model of point guard, the mold of a player who sets things up for his teammates, plays defense, and maybe hits an open jump shot.
In this new "Era of the Point Guard," there are many guards who are able to score in addition to their quarterbacking the offense.
Kyrie Irving fits this mold well. On a team that lacked offensive firepower, Irving was able to score over 18 points a game on a very efficient 47 percent from the field.
He has the complete offensive game to be able to attack the defense in a variety of different ways and is a unique scorer for a point guard. As he becomes smarter, his offensive game should grow.
Expectations were sky high for Kyrie Irving, as he was expected to come in and replace the best player in basketball today, LeBron James. Many players more talented than Irving have crumbled under the pressure of re-energizing a fanbase and turning around a franchise, but Irving passed with flying colors.
Kyrie was not able to turn around this franchise wins-wise, but he did a pretty decent job considering the task he had. Pro-rated over a whole season, the arrival of Irving added an extra seven wins, despite Irving missing double-digit games. At times, Kyrie showed the killer instinct to take over and win games, a skill that requires incredible confidence.
I can't emphasize enough, more talented players than Kyrie have crumbled under the pressure of resurrecting a franchise from scratch, especially one as undesirable as Cleveland, but Kyrie has managed to exceed expectations.
Like I noted in the last slide, Irving entered a team reeling after the departure of LeBron James to Miami. The team was seen as a dying franchise in a bad basketball city with an unlikable owner who threw his former superstar under the bus.
Kyrie Irving has taken over the face of this franchise. While some remnants of the LeBron days will remain, Irving has remodeled the situation of playing in Cleveland. While the city itself still may be a turnoff for players, playing next to an elite point guard is a valuable situation indeed.
There are very few players who are able to influence the direction a franchise heads; you could probably count those players on two hands. Kyrie Irving has proven he is one of those players.
Of course the position of point guard is most characterized by creating for teammates. Kyrie's numbers don't look great, but they look better if we analyze them a bit closer.
Per 36 minutes, Irving averages more along the lines of 6.4 assists per game rather than the 5.4 he averaged overall.
As well, it must be noted that Irving had only one player who averaged over 15 points per game other than himself, and it was on 40 percent shooting. He also had six players on his team who have been relegated to the D-League over the course of their career.
Irving had no scoring talent on his team to create for, and still managed to average solid numbers. With real talent around him, there is no question in my mind that he would be able to average more assists.
We saw the spike in assists when Derrick Rose got talent around him, and I think we'll see a similar trend.
There are many point guards in this league who have the ability to score at an elite level. Some of the names that come to mind as elite scorers and floor generals are Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that Kyrie has the same kind of elite athleticism as the first two, but he is a special player who is able to make up for it in other ways.
Kyrie can get to the bucket. That is clear. However what sets him apart from other elite point guards is his elite jump shot for a player of his age. In his first season, Irving was right on the cusp of 40 percent from the three-point line, despite being the primary, and at times only, scorer on his team.
His percentage put him second among starting point guards, only behind shooting specialist Stephen Curry, who played a meager 26 games.
What I'm trying to say is that Irving is a player who has been able to make up for his deficiencies before, and that is the sign of an impressive worker. If Irving can keep up his work ethic and continue to be a smart player, he could be a top-five point guard before long.