The 2011 NBA draft is set to take place this Thursday, June 23 on ESPN at 7 PM EST.
Teams in the lottery will be searching for the impact player to turn their fortunes around and get them on the path towards contending.
While this is a fairly shallow draft class, there are still a number of standout candidates.
Read on to find out about prospect Kyrie Irving's strengths, weaknesses, and a pro comparison.
Dave-Te' Thomas has been the NFL's official biographer since age 14 (now 57), and along the way, Frank Cooney of the Sports Xchange, a sports content house used by CBS Sports, among others, asked him to dust off his NBA expertise back in 2001, as Cooney knew Thomas did reports for 15 teams in the league. Thomas runs The NBA Draft Report, published through Frank & also The NFL Draft Report.
Irving’s collegiate career was very brief, lasting just eleven games thanks to a nagging right turf toe injury that he suffered against Butler in early December during his freshman campaign. The point guard was twice fitted for a cast as doctors tried to speed up his healing process, but he would remain on the sidelines for 26 contests before returning to action during the NCAA Tournament.
Irving got off to a sensational start for the Blue Devils, scoring in double figures in each of his first eight games before the injury. When he returned to the court during the second round of tournament action, he picked up right where he left off, closing out his career with a 28-point output in an upset loss to Arizona.
His 17.5 points scored per game ranked second on the team. Irving also shot 52.9 percent from the field and made a team-best 90.1 percent from the foul line. His also paced the Blue Devils with 46.2 percent success shooting from three, while his 47 assists in just one-third of a season ranked fifth on the team.
Irving’s basketball “pedigree” was established at birth. He is the son of Drederick Irving, who played at Boston University from 1984-88, where he scored 14 points in the Terriers’ 85-69 loss to Duke in the opening round of the 1988 NCAA Tournament. Drederick had his jersey retired and ranks second in school history with 1,931 career points. He went on to play professionally in Australia for the Bulleen Boomers.
Kyrie Irving was born in Melbourne and attained dual citizenship in the United States and Australia. His basketball career began at Montclair Kimberley Academy, where he was named conference Player of the Year as a sophomore. He led the academy to its first Prep Class B state title that season, averaging 29.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game. In just two seasons at the school, he became just its second player to score over 1,000 points during a career.
Saint Patrick’s High School would benefit from Irving’s arrival as a junior. In each of his four prep seasons at both schools, the guard received All-Conference honors. He was then named Gatorade’s New Jersey Player of the Year and was a consensus All-American pick as a senior, averaging 24.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 1.6 steals per game in leading the Celtics to a 24-3 record and a No. 7 ranking in the final USA Today Poll in 2010. He was also a finalist that year for the Naismith Boy's High School Player of the Year.
The 2010 McDonald’s All-America participant also scored 13 points to go with two rebounds, two assists and three steals in a 107-104 loss. He was named Co-MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic All-Star game, when he scored a team-high 22 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field, including 2-of-4 from the three-point line, and 8-of-12 from the free throw line. He also tallied a team-high seven assists, three rebounds and one steal.
Irving was also a member of the USA Under-18 team, leading them to a 5-0 record and a gold medal at the 2010 FIBA Americas U18 Championship in San Antonio. During that series, he averaged 13.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the foul line. A year earlier, he had earned MVP honors at the 2009 Nike Global Challenge after averaging 21.3 points and 4.3 assists to lead USA East to the tournament title.
In early April, 2011, Irving announced that he would enter the 2011 NBA Draft, where he is expected to be one of the first players selected. “Our whole program is overjoyed with having Kyrie here for one year and that he has the chance now to pursue a dream of being a high draft pick and a great player in the NBA,” said head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“We are totally supportive of Kyrie, his family and his decision. We look forward to continuing to work with him during the upcoming months leading to his entry into the NBA and afterwards while he is an NBA player. He is a great young man, a terrific student, and a truly amazing representative for our program and for Duke. We love him and are very happy for him and his family.”
“I want to thank the entire staff at Duke, especially the coaches,” said Irving. “It was a great experience playing for Coach K. He taught me a lot about the game. Even when I was hurt, I learned a lot. Also a special thanks goes to the medical staff for getting me back on the court for the NCAA Tournament and my teammates for sticking with me throughout the entire year. Duke offered me an experience I could never have imagined.”
“This was a special year for me. I love everything about Duke and I’m going to miss it,” added Irving. ”Duke has a special place in my heart. Even though I’m leaving this year, Duke will always be in my mind and my heart. I’m going to miss putting on that No. 1 jersey.”
Irving a lean, angular frame with developed calf and thigh muscles, long reach and room for additional bulk without affecting his overall quickness. Despite lacking great elevation, Irving knows how to compensate with good determination and above-average slashing ability to get to the basket and draw contact with his inside game.
He also plays with good balance and body control, and while he is not explosive with his initial step, he has the quickness to push the ball on the open floor. Has a great work ethic and attitude, bringing energy to the court and leadership to the locker room.
Additionally, Irving shows the balance and foot speed to run the court and can easily get by opposing guards and into the paint. Has very good ball-handling skills and excels in one-on-one match-ups. Still, he needs to get better elevation and improve upon a low release point, but when uncontested along the perimeter, he shows good range with his jump shot.
Irving also plays with a high basketball IQ level and while he might hold on to the ball too long at times, his passes are quick and crisp. He uses his body lean and balance well when flying by defenders, especially off the dribble. He also does a good job of weaving through traffic to take the ball from one end of the court to the other.
Irving will fire the spot-up jump shot with good consistency, but he has the ability to drive to the rim, as well. Additionally, he knows how to use his cross over action to create room for his shots and is a top-notch passer with good court vision. He has good control with the ball in his hands, showing the crafty moves to slip through tight areas and feed and dish the ball off to his teammates when he doesn't get too shoot-first conscious.
Furthermore, Irving shows the quick feet and stop-and-go action to pull up off the dribble and is essentially ambidextrous, shooting equally effectively from either side of the basket. He drives to his left well and consistently finishes with his off-hand.
Has the large, soft hands to secure the ball and turn quickly in catch-and-shoot situations. He stays low to the ground when driving to the basket, and his sudden change-of-direction agility allows him to suddenly pull up and get off a quick jumper with ease.
Additionally, Irving thrives on the fast break and knows how to vary his speed top get the defender off-balance. He has the speed to elude defenders coming off the screen on attempts to get to the rim and is also a scrappy defender when he takes on other point guards, as he does a nice job of staying in front of his man. He also has the wing span to alter a few shots.
Irving gets most of his steals due to his keen anticipation skills, as he generally takes good angles on defense. Has the lateral quickness to get to the boundaries quickly and uses his long reach to get around the ball handler and strip the ball from his opponent. He shows quick spin moves that surprise lethargic forwards during his charge to the basket, and also has good quickness, taking proper angles in attempts to slash towards the basket.
Irving is a solid technician, but he lacks the explosive feet demonstrated by last year’s top pick, John Wall (Washington) and is a bit turnover-prone for a point guard (27 turnovers in 303 minutes of action last season). He has good quickness to get into the open, but since he will be relegated to point guard duty, he has to rectify his “shoot first, pass later” mentality.
His turf toe injury limited him to just eleven games of college action, and while he showed good scoring ability in high school, he does have problems when he is challenged by more physical defenders. He will need to work hard to improve his core strength in order to be more effective in transition or when driving to the basket.
Additionally, although Irving has a good wing span and active feet, he is not a high elevator and could struggle to get off his perimeter shot if a bigger defender matches up tightly with him. He is an exciting scorer, but he also needs to locate his teammates more quickly and is at times prone to playing out-of-control. He sometimes tries to drive into tight areas when he should really be kicking the ball out.
Irving also has a good handle on the ball early in games, but will over-dribble and turn the ball over when he hesitates in attempts to feed the sphere. Furthermore, although he is improving, he still has only adequate three-point range and can get in a bad rhythm when his jump shot is misfiring. Coming off the dribble, his jumper is lacking and he is not a great defensive presence.
With just adequate leaping ability, Irving is not going to be able to alter the shots from bigger opponents. He acts like a two-guard, but at 6'2", he’s not going to be able to go up and get his shot off against small forwards or two guards, especially since he looks deliberate taking his shots and fires from a lower-than-ideal release point.
Pro Comparison: Chris Paul, New Orleans
Irving is by far the elite point guard in the 2011 draft, but he lacks the explosive quickness featured by elite point guards taken in recent drafts, including Derrick Rose (Chicago) and John Wall (Washington). He played well within the Duke’s system and is at his best on the open floor, but he still needs to develop more patience for the half court game.
To me, Irving is a point guard in size, but yearns to let that shooting guard take over his game. As a defender, he is not one who can play much bigger than his size indicates. And while his position takes a few years to develop the skills to lead an offense, Irving does have a very high basketball IQ, when he plays in control.
He still needs to work on getting a higher release point on the outside jump shot and being more selective from the three-point range. He is still too “shoot-first” conscious and needs to scan the court better to locate open teammates. But like Paul, look for Irving's overall game to continue to improve.