There has been a lot of love thrown toward Kyrie Irving over the past week after he stuck it to the Los Angeles Lakers in his first game back from a broken finger, and dropped 41 on the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden. It's all just evidence that he's on his way toward challenging the league's best point guards.
As his career continues to roll on and he tries to drag the Cleveland Cavaliers back to relevancy in the Eastern Conference, Irving is quickly becoming the league's best young point guard, ready to lead the pack into the future and become the new (and improved?) version of Chris Paul.
There are a lot of things that need to happen between now and the next five years before we can really say he's done it, but the obstacles mostly look like ones he can hurdle.
The way it looks right now, Irving must stay healthy long enough to reach his full potential. But, his injuries aren't as worrisome as guys like Andrew Bynum, and even though he's got glass bones, he doesn't have a chronic injury to one area of his body.
in order to get to a level to where Paul is today, there are some obvious strides he's going to need to make in his game. Based on what he's capable of doing after less than half a season at Duke, and a lockout-shortened rookie year, it's not going to be a surprise to see this kid take off.
Irving has played in just 65 games in his career, averaging 19.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists and just over a steal per game, while shooting just below 47 percent from the field, just over 40 percent from the three-point line and 86 percent from the free throw line.
Most impressively, Irving has never been able to get into a flow in his 14 games this season.
Irving came into the season after recovering from a broken hand, playing only 10 games before going down with a broken finger.
Once this kid is able to string a few months of games together and get into a normal basketball player's stride, he could be ridiculously good. Oh, and he's not going to be turning 21 until late March.
Irving has a lot he's great at already, but there's nothing he's perfect at.
First of all, Irving is still very green when it comes to controlling the pace of a game as a point guard.
He's very capable of taking control and dominating the pace of the game when the ball is in his own hands, but there are still huge strides he can make in terms of getting the rest of his team involved.
Sure, some of that has to do with the Cavs have five legitimate NBA players and a bench full of Donald Sloans and Luke Waltons, but there's still more that he can do on that front.
Of course, he also needs to take better care of the ball, something that you can pretty much say about any and all young NBA point guards. He's got 1.63 assists for every turnover. Chris Paul is putting up more than four assists for every turnover he has.
Plus, Irving is still making rookie mistakes on defense; gambling too much, giving his man too much space and inching back to help, rather than staying forward to deny the kick-out to the perimeter.
He's not the defender Paul was as a young man, but he's got the tools and the instincts to get there in the next few years.
Finally, Irving relies on Kobe Bryant jump shots at times. He can make them, which is certainly impressive, but he takes contested jumpers and off-balance mid-range shots more often than he should.
If he would take the time on the possessions where time isn't a factor, Irving could end up controlling the pace of the game better and become a more productive floor general.
Basically, the biggest complaint about him is that he's still young. These are things he's going to learn as he rolls along.
Flashes of Paul
Chris Paul, of course, started as a 20-year-old rookie back in 2005 with the New Orleans Hornets where he was a natural passer from the start, but he wasn't always the best scorer. It wasn't until his third year in the league before he was capable of shooting higher than 44 percent.
That's a leg-up on Paul that Irving has. At this stage in his career he's a far superior scorer and shooter. There's actually no comparison between the two.
Irving's ball-handling skills allows him to turn opponents' knees into jelly. Once he's jarred and stored the knee jam, Irving has a free look at turning the corner and getting into the lane, from where he can score with either hand.
He might have the most natural dribbling skills since Allen Iverson.
Finally, there's Irving's uncanny ability to hit every shot late in games. He seems like he just can't miss when the palms in the arena get sweaty.
Irving has played just 32 "clutch" minutes so far this season, but when we take a look at a more substantial sample size over the course of last season, Irving's 56 points per 48 minutes led the league.
Plus, it's not like he was just chucking up every possible shot: he was shooting 54 percent, a full seven percent better than his average for the year, to go along with making two-thirds of his three-pointers.
The kid just has ice-water in his veins, and that's going to take him a long way.
If he stays on path in terms of health and development, there's no reason to think that he won't end up being the league's best point guard at some point in the not-to-distant future.
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