NBA Draft Preview: Is Kyrie Irving an Elite Prospect?

Shady BotrosAnalyst IJune 16, 2011

Irving averaged 17.5 points per game at Duke, but only played 11 games
Irving averaged 17.5 points per game at Duke, but only played 11 gamesStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

With every NBA draft, there’s always one man at the top, the one guy that makes a team more concerned with ping pong balls rather than wins and losses. It was Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984, Patrick Ewing in ’85, LeBron James in 2003 and many others.

Last year’s top man, John Wall, served as the cornerstone for a struggling Washington Wizards franchise—a franchise coming off the Gilbert Arenas debacle, the death of their owner Abe Pollin, and a 26-56 record. After a spectacular rookie showing by Wall, the Wizards are currently in the process of moving toward contending again.

The Cleveland Cavaliers find themselves in a situation similar to the Wizards, only worse. LeBron James and his Decision left a dark cloud hanging over the franchise. The Cavs are coming off a historically egregious 19-63 record and are left with the monumental task of rebuilding.

But things have slightly turned around for the Cavs over the past month. Thanks to the NBA’s “habit to produce some pretty incredible storylines” as Minnesota Timberwolves David Kahn put it, the Cavs were improbably awarded with the No. 1 and No. 4 picks in the upcoming NBA draft. Not to forget that Cleveland’s own son-turned-pariah, LeBron James, just suffered another heartbreak, this time at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks.

All signs indicate that the Cavaliers will select Duke point guard Kyrie Irving with the top pick, and ultimately look to build around him. Irving has welcomed the prospect of playing in Cleveland, but is he capable of taking on the challenge that is resurrecting a franchise that remains financially locked to a mediocre roster?

The answer is certainly no. I’m sure everyone’s heard that Irving is the best player this draft has to offer, but that can only be attributed to the weakness of this draft, not Irving’s talent. Irving doesn’t fit the standards of a typical No. 1 draft pick.

As a prospect, Irving comes into this draft with some major red flags, most of which are overshadowed by the fact that he’s the best player on the board. But the fact that he’s the best player this draft has to offer doesn’t speak to his talents, but to this draft’s weakness. Irving had a stellar season at Duke. He led the team in scoring with 17.5 points while shooting 53 percent, but he only played 11 games due to a toe injury.

Injured or not, Irving still has flaws in his game which will limit him from living up to his No. 1 pick status. Irving is a good athlete but not a great one; he doesn’t have the quickness of a Chris Paul, the strength of a Deron Williams or the speed of a John Wall, despite many experts drawing numerous comparisons to such elite point guards.

I’m not saying Irving is a bad prospect, but in a normal draft, Irving probably isn’t a top-five pick. Irving does have the tools to become a solid point guard—perhaps a Raymond Felton, Mike Conley type, a borderline top-10 point guard.

Irving does have a great feel for the game, a solid jump shot, and a polished game. He’s ready to step onto an NBA court and contribute right now, but he’s certainly not on the same level as an elite point guard like Chris Paul.

As for Irving’s impact on the Cavs, he won’t be able to turn this dire situation around, but he’ll certainly generate some excitement around the team, and effectively assume the point guard position which has been a major void for the Cavs prior to LeBron James’ arrival.

As much as their fans would like to believe it, the Cavs will not erase the dreadful memories of this past year regardless of whom they decide in this upcoming draft. This draft doesn’t have the franchise-changing talent that the Cavaliers need, but one thing that is certain: the Cavs will be a much better team after draft night than they were on July 8, 2010—Decision night.