In the eight games Kyrie Irving suited up this year, Duke looked like a team that would have no problem defending their national championship.
They won every game, including a neutral-site matchup against then-No. 4 Kansas State and a home contest against then-No. 6 Michigan State, by an average of over 23 points per game. Irving shot a blistering 58.7% on two-point shots and 45.2% from behind the three-point line, constantly created shot opportunities for others, and facilitated an offense that averaged almost 90 points a game with him in the lineup.
NBA Position: Point Guard
Weight: 185 lbs.
School: Duke University
Where to start? Irving is as close to a pure point guard as the draft has seen since Chris Paul/Deron Williams in 2005. His command on the floor is second to none – he masters the line of knowing when to take over and look for his own shot and when to facilitate for his teammates.
In terms of passing, he’s ahead of the curve of most young PGs. He effectively uses his dribble to set up teammates for open shots. If he’s passing to a big, he delivers the pass high or low depending on how the defense is set up. If he’s passing to an outside threat the ball routinely is right in the shooting pocket, allowing for an easy catch-and-shoot. And on the fast break, his passes are flawless.
A terrific scorer as well, Irving can get his shot in a number of ways. He’s a much better outside shooter than most realize, knocking down 45.2% of his three-point shots on nearly 4 attempts per game. Granted it’s a small sample size because he’s only played eight games, but you can’t argue with his technique and comfort level. He’s not as fast as the last two No. 1 PGs (Derrick Rose and John Wall) but he’s still deceptively quick. When he gets into the paint, he can finish with both hands. And he’s great shooting while pulling up off the dribble.
Defensively, he has the quickness and strength to stay in front of opposing guards in college and that should translate to the pros. Playing at Duke, he’ll be almost assuredly be fundamentally sound in that department.
But perhaps the most impressive part of his game is his confidence. He plays like he relishes being one of the best prospects in the country and carries himself extremely well for an 18-year old. He’s mature, developed and he wants to get better. His game isn’t exactly comparable to Derrick Rose’s but his demeanor on the court and as a leader is similar, and in today’s game that is being taken over by dominant point guards that’s a terrific signs for lottery teams that need help in the backcourt.
Obviously the first thing to stand out is his toe injury. It’s not so much a question of whether or not he’s injury prone or if he’ll get his explosiveness back, but if he doesn’t return for Duke this year teams will be selecting him off a very small sample size. Eight games isn’t exactly a lot when determining a prospect and we won’t get a chance to see how he’ll react to adversity throughout the season…and how he’ll play in March, the most important time of the year for college basketball teams.
There are a few questions with his game as well but nothing major. Sometimes the ball sticks in his hands a lot and he dribbles too much – however, that’s usually a problem with freshman PGs who have been asked to dribble, create and score for their entire careers. Those issues will be worked out over time.
But in the end, Irving is a new face in the crop of emerging PGs…only he’s more developed and polished than guys like Rose, Wall and Russell Westbrook were when they were freshman. If declares himself eligible, he’ll be guaranteed a top-five pick.
NBA Player Comparison: Chris Paul
Draft Projection: Top-5