2011 NBA Draft: Comparing Expert Opinions on Duke's Kyrie Irving
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With the news that Duke guard Kyrie Irving has declared for the NBA draft, the top projected college prospect will face a media storm of praise and criticism over the next few months.
His strengths will be highlighted, but his flaws will also be picked apart until you forget that this kid is supposed to be the first overall player taken in the draft.
That's what always happens with the top prospects whenever a draft approaches, as teams and the media begin to focus so strongly on the negatives that they start to lose sight of the very reason why the player was so highly regarded.
The good news for Kyrie Irving is that he doesn't have many flaws in his game.
The 6'2, 180-pound point guard out of West Orange, New Jersey was arguably Duke's most talented player whenever he was on the court last season.
Although he played in just 11 games due to a toe injury, including three NCAA tournament games, Irving averaged 17.5 points per contest (second on the team), with 4.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals.
He dropped 31 points in a 84-79 win over Michigan St. in early December and added 28 points in his final college game, a sweet 16 loss to Arizona.
Although 11 games makes for a small sample size, Irving did shoot .529 from the field, an eye popping .462 from behind the arc and an elite 90 percent from the free throw line.
Kyrie Irving is probably going to be an elite offensive point guard in the NBA. That is the very reason why the team with the top pick (Draft Lottery Favorites: Cleveland) is likely to make him the first overall selection.
2011's draft class looks weak. Even NBA executives would agree. ESPN's Chad Ford mentioned the following in a Feburary column:
"Said a Clippers source after the team sent its first-round pick to Cleveland, 'This just shows you how much we hate this draft.'"
But the 2011 draft is considered weak because of its depth and not necessarily because the projected No. 1 player lacks the abilities to become an NBA superstar.
With that in mind, let's take a look at what some of the NBA experts have already said about Kyrie Irving's game and how they think he projects as a professional.
What Chris Broussard Is Saying
When asked in a March 28th column who the best prospect he's seen in the NCAA tournament has been, ESPN's Chris Broussard responded:
"Kyrie Irving. I really like Derrick Williams, but Irving is the best prospect, hands-down. He can shoot the 3 and the midrange J, he can get to the hole, he's got a great handle, he's poised, he can pass, he's got good character, he's a smart player and he's a true floor general.
One NBA exec told me he doesn't have the explosiveness of some of the latest great PGs like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and John Wall, but that he's more like a Chris Paul -- a quick, savvy, clever leader who truly knows how to run a team."
Broussard has quickly become one of ESPN's top NBA analysts. I think his assessment of Kyrie Irving is spot on.
While Irving may not be as explosive as Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook, he's a tremendously smart basketball player and creator who can score on you in a variety of ways.
He's an unselfish teammate who will make those around him better, even at the next level.
What Fran Fraschilla Is Saying
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ESPN's Fran Fraschilla was a coach for Manhattan College, St. John's University and the University of New Mexico.
In a blog posted entitled, "Kyrie Irving can be a Gamebreaker," Fraschilla had the following to say:
"Before Irving was injured, he was Duke's leading scorer and had taken college basketball by storm over the first month of the season. His explosiveness in the open court and his ability to attack the rim (especially when going to his left), combined with his lethal shooting ability from behind the arc, put him on NBA scouts' radars immediately.
In fact, the 6-foot-2 freshman reminded me of former NBA star and Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas in his ability to score points while also creating opportunities for his teammates when needed."
I feel that Isiah Thomas is a much better comparison for Irving than Chris Paul, though it's probably still not perfect. Isiah was a tenacious competitor who had an attitude that he brought to the defensive side of his game.
I haven't seen enough of Irving yet to know whether he has that same competitive fire, but very few players actually possess it.
Kyrie Irving is an absolutely deadly shooter, a trait which immediately separates him from Isiah. Thomas was just a career 29 percent shooter from beyond the arc and just a 75 percent free throw shooter.
What Andy Katz Is Saying
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While commenting on Duke's NCAA tournament chances with the timely return of Kyrie Irving, ESPN's Andy Katz had the following reaction:
"His game is to look for the opening in the lane. Granted the competition was the MEAC champ Hampton. But that shouldn’t matter in the assessment. Of course, Michigan will be a tougher opponent Sunday and the openings won’t be as grand. But Irving is finding his comfort zone just as Duke is set to play a potential six-game season.
Remember, Irving was Duke’s leading scorer when he got hurt. He was scoring 17 points per game and lit up Michigan State for 31 on Dec. 1. He would have been a candidate for the freshman and national player of the year awards, let alone ACC player of the year, had he stayed healthy."
All of these statements are quite true. Irving is a point guard who likes to penetrate the offensive zone and use his vision to make reads quicker than the defense can react.
In a split second, Irving can determine whether to dish inside to a big man, put up a shot if he's uncovered or spin and kick to someone for a potentially open three-point shot.
He uses his quickness and his ball handling abilities to keep defenders off-balance and to create space for himself.
Additionally, Irving most certainly would have been in all of those awards discussions had he stayed healthy.
Freshmen usually show a greater improvement from the start to the end of one season than players in any other year, because freshmen have the most experience to gain.
It's scary to think how good Kyrie Irving could have been come tournament time if he had stayed healthy and had 20 extra games to prepare and improve.
What Kurt Helin Is Saying
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Kurt Helin is one of the staff writers for NBC Sport's Pro Basketball Talk. He had the following praise for Kyrie Irving even after Duke' shocking exit from the NCAA tournament:
"Irving is maybe the one franchise-changing guy in this draft. He’s a point guard, a position that in the current “no hand checking” NBA is key. He’s a solid 6’2” with good passing skills. He also can score — he showed that Thursday night in Duke’s loss to Arizona hitting 9-of-15. More importantly, his decisions on when to shoot and when to pass seemed solid. He could get more looks and force shots, but he wasn’t doing that. He as making the right play.
Irving also looked like a guy who could be a solid NBA defender. No Duke player was defending well — that is why they lost — but his lateral quickness was there and he seemed to be playing well inside the Duke defensive system."
I don't think that Irving is the only potential franchise changing guy in the 2011 NBA draft. I feel that Arizona's Derrick Williams deserves that tag as well.
He earned it with his performance in college and his will to carry a surprisingly good Arizona team to an Elite Eight (over Duke, no less).
Helin correctly points out that Kyrie Irving is a great decision maker, though.
Lots of athletes get by without making good decisions. Since they are so immensely talented, their physical attributes can often make up for their mental deficiencies.
An ill-advised shot that goes in does not automatically make it a good shot. Basketball is about input rather than output. Over time, players who make the right decisions (pass at the correct times, shoot at the correct times and make the right defensive switches) will have more success than those who don't.
Kyrie Irving is a great "input" type player. As a point guard, the quarterback of an NBA team, he goes about his business the right way. That's why he's probably the safest bet in this draft to turn into a great player.
What Jonathan Givony Is Saying
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Jonathan Givony runs DraftExpress.com, one of the top websites on the internet when it comes to scouting NBA draft prospects (for now and several years into the future) on a year round basis.
He had the following to say about Kyrie Irving's limited college performance:
"Productive, efficient, unselfish, exciting—there's really no shortage of ways to describe the way Irving has performed thus far. He's managed to take a NCAA Tournament championship team—ranked as the best offense in college basketball—and make them even better, acting as their main facilitator, shot-maker and go-to guy. Dominant when needed, but still deferential enough to keep all of Duke's many other options happy (thus far), Irving has fit in as seamlessly as possible, making the transition to the NCAA-level look effortless."
Irving really increased Duke's pace this season. Without Jon Scheyer bringing the ball up the court, a very athletic Duke team averaged seven more offensive possessions per game with Irving at the point.
Kyrie Irving is great at pushing the ball and running the transition offense.
According to Givony, "Irving plays at a very unique pace that keeps defenses consistently off-balance and allows him to get to the basket seemingly whenever he needs to. Able to drive left or right almost equally well, he has excellent timing on his drives, very good body control, and the ability to operate at different speeds. Rather than just attempting to blow by opponents using his pure first step, Irving instead likes to toy with his defender, using tricky stutter-steps, strong body fakes, and perfectly timed hesitation moves to beat opponents smoothly and slitherly."
It's these excess movements that allows Irving to create space for himself. He's great at improvising on the fly and doing whatever he deems necessary with his body to make the defender forget about the ball.
On Irving's defense, Givony has the following to say, "Defensively, Irving won't have any problems from a physical standpoint in the NBA, as he has good size, strength and lateral quickness, even if his wingspan probably won't measure out off the charts. He's already way ahead of where most freshman are on this end of the court too, as he plays with good intensity, has excellent fundamentals, and shows great timing jumping in the passing lanes. Like all freshmen, he has some issues defending off the ball and can get impatient coming out of his stance in long possessions, but these are minor qualms that can and likely will be corrected playing under one of the most respected coaches in all of basketball."
Quite the all-around praise for a teenager. Even though this scouting report was written in early December, Givony still has Irving ranked as the site's No.1 prospect for this season. He also has him going as the first overall pick in the 2011 draft.
What an Anonymous Eastern Conference Scout Is Saying
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Conor Orr, of the New Jersey Star-Ledger, questioned an NBA Scout about Kyrie Irving's potential impact.
His response: "In terms of a prospects, it's a league now of point guards and big men and obviously point guards, if you can get one with (Irving's) quickness and athleticism, the way that he moves the ball and gets out in transition -- he's a special player."
Basketball is a high scoring game. Good, high-tempo offenses tend to beat good defenses since players are naturally inclined to play fast. More opportunities means more chances to score.
Once the pace of the game picks up, all of the players tend to adapt, regardless of whether they should.
Go to practically any basketball game (Youth, Middle School, AAU, High School, College NBA, etc.) and you'll probably hear a coach yell "slow it down" to his point guard at some point during the game.
For Kyrie Irving, he's just playing at normal speed and hoping everyone else can keep up.
Having a point guard who can confidently and consistently force the issue and pickup the pace of the game is an invaluable asset in the NBA.
Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Tony Parker and Ty Lawson are the only guards I can think of who are extremely effective at kicking it into high-gear and changing the way the game is played.
When he gets to the NBA, Kyrie Irving will immediately join that class. That's why he's a special player.
What an Anonymous Scouting Director Is Saying
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Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen recently interviewed an NBA scouting director about a bunch of the top prospects in this year's draft.
He had this to say about Kyrie Irving's toughness:
"It would have been easier for him to not come back and just wait to work out with the top two or three teams in the draft...It shows me he didn't curl up and take the easy way out. His decision shows a lot of competitiveness."
Irving probably knew that he wasn't coming back to school anyway. He was still being considered by the Cavaliers as the No. 1 overall pick even if he hadn't returned and played three NCAA tournament games.
But Irving did return, and he played well.
The fact that he returned doesn't necessarily suggest that Kyrie Irving is a tough player who will do anything he can to help his team win.
Is it possible? Sure. The fact that this his motives have been confirmed by teammates and scouts probably speaks to their truthfulness.
But its also likely that Irving was merely concerned about losing the No. 1 spot and decided that he needed to get back on the court and prove himself again in order to lock it up.
Toughness? Maybe. Situational awareness? Definitely.
What Critical Cameron Crazies Are Saying
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Duke blogger Chris Cusack received some national press this week when he posted a satirical open-letter to Kyrie Irving on his blog.
In it, Cusack writes:
"Seriously. Declare for the NBA draft, hire an agent, pick out a nice suit and start practicing to look surprised when your name is one of the first to be called by Commissioner David Stern in June...Sure, some of the Cameron Crazies will implore you to consider your legacy as a Blue Devil, to remember the history of the great Duke players before you who went on to successful NBA careers. They’ll probably name drop the likes of Carlos Boozer, Grant Hill and Shane Battier, all guys who won NCAA titles before noteworthy careers in the pros.
...Plus, sticking around and winning a fifth national title for the Blue Devils is just selfish, even if you haven’t ever won one yourself. Think about it: Cameron is already full of national championship banners, and adding one of your own would ruin the symmetry in the rafters. Sure, you’ll give up your chance to be remembered as one of Duke’s all-time greatest basketball players, but I bet if you asked Christian Laettner, he would tell you that fans don’t remember collegiate legacies anyway.
...That’s all there is to consider. Rest assured, you’ll never regret leaving Duke after just one year, never wonder what might have been if you stuck around to play with the nation’s No. 2-ranked recruiting class, which by the way includes your longtime friend and teammate Austin Rivers. It’s really a no-brainer."
Although this letter doesn't speak for any member or employee of Duke University other than this one disgruntled fan, I'm sure that there are Dukies out there who would agree with the sentiments.
Cusack is begging Irving to stay and leave a college legacy that's befitting of the best Duke players who have moved onto NBA success.
While I know Cusack wants Kyrie Irving to stay and help Duke win a national title, you can never blame a kid for leaving school when he's guaranteed to go in the top five of a draft and become an instant millionaire.
Kyrie Irving will be a success in the NBA, regardless of the fact that he played just 11 collegiate games.
The Duke Blue Devils have a history of producing top college players who eventually struggle in the pros.
Ironically, Kyrie Irving could become the best NBA player in the history of Duke's program and he'll do so without ever having made his mark in Durham.