Kyrie Irving placed 22nd in ESPN's player rankings. For a player that is only 20 years old that's a remarkable achievement. This year though, he will move up and by the end of the season, he'll be a consensus top 15 player in the NBA.
The primary reason for that, is that the talent around him is getting gradually upgraded. For a point guard that's essential, since he is always limited by the talent around him.
For evidence of that, look no further than Deron Williams, whose career fell off a cliff when he was traded to New Jersy and whose career will re-ascend now that his surrounding talent has been upgraded.
Look at Derrick Rose who won the MVP and broke out when the talent around him was upgraded.
There is a phony controversy over what a point guard is supposed to do. Those who score are criticized as being "shoot-first" point guards. That's phony because a point guards job is not to pass. It's to run the offense. Sometimes that means passing and sometimes that means shooting.
When it requires shooting, the point guard should shoot, and Kyrie Irving is an outstanding shooter. In fact, his true shooing percentage of .566 was the third best of any rookie point guard in the history of the league who averaged at least five assists per game.
Take a look at his true shooting percentage along with the other stats, compared to some of the best rookie point guard performers in history.
From the scoring perspective, both in terms of overall numbers and efficiency, he is right up there with the best ever in his first season. The only fault is in his passing numbers.
However what's often overlooked when it comes to assists is who do you have to pass to? Obviously a point guard on a team with more, and better, shooters is going to be able to rack up more assists.
Deron Williams had his worst passing season since 2007 last year, but he didn't forget how to pass. He just didn't have teammates who shot the ball as well.
Few players had to deal with bad shooting as much as Kyrie Irving did last season. Here are the effective field-goal percentages of the teammates of some of the league's top point guards last season. Bear in mind this is the effective field goal percentage of only the teammates and does not include the players themselves.
|Player||Teammates EFG% On||Teammates EFG% Off||Difference EFG%|
As you can see, last year Irving was with the best in the league when it came to making his teammates better, but the only difference was that his teammates had a lower floor. In fact his teammates were the worst shooters of any of the top point guards.
It only makes sense that as Irving's teammates improve, his assist numbers will go up. Dion Watiers is a big step up from Daniel Gibson who shot .351 and/or Tony Parker, who shot .433. Tyler Zeller is a 23 year-old rookie who is noted for his efficiency.
Tristian Thompson started to make progress last year. He shot .444 over the second half of the year compared to .414 the first half of the year.
Also, Anderson Varejao will be returning and he was the only Cavalier in 2012 with a shooting percentage over .500.
Simply put, Irving's assist numbers will go up for no other reason than his teammates will shoot the ball with greater efficiency. If Irving's teammates could just make two percent more of their shots, he would accrue 1.2 more assists per game, even if he were otherwise exactly the same player.
But Irving won't be exactly the same player. He'll have the normal development that you expect from a player that is going from 19 to 20.
Last season his points went up by .9 and his assists went up .6 over the second half of the season, in spite of the fact he played a minute less per game. His per 36 numbers after the break were 22.8 points and 6.8 assists.
It makes sense that he'll continue to develop his game.
With improved teammates around him, numbers approaching Derrick Rose's MVP year where he averaged 25.0 points and 7.8 assists, are not at all impossible. Certainly a 22/7 year is within the realm of possibility and those kinds of numbers would easily put him as a top 15 player in the league.
Kyrie Irving might not be LeBron James, but he makes for a heck of a healing salve, and the players who are accumulating around him might make the Cavaliers a championship caliber team in a couple of years. Look for them to make a postseason run this year, and Irving, leading the way, to break into ESPN's top 15 next summer.