April 23, 2014

The Case For Kyrie Irving

The NBA Finals have come and gone, and though it feels like it’s been 6 months since the Cleveland Cavaliers played a basketball game, the offseason is really only just now beginning. The first step will be the NBA Draft and here we sit, just one week away from the first step toward determining the path the Cavaliers’ rebuilding process will take.

As with the NFL Draft, we are now entering the bizarre pre-week stage of the process of the draft where conflicting reports and misinformation are about to fill the air waves. We’ve already seen our fair share of rumors, leaks, and lies over the past weeks since the Draft Lottery made the Cavaliers the story of the draft, but now that the distraction of the NBA Playoffs are gone, expect the volume on those rumors to be turned up.

Indeed, information is all over the place today. Yahoo’s Marc Spears has an interview with head coach Byron Scott in which Coach Scott says the Cavaliers haven’t made up their mind yet on whether the first pick will be Kyrie Irving or Derrick Williams. This, of course, conflicts with ESPN’s Chad Ford who has reported that the Cavaliers are actively trying to trade both Ramon Sessions and Baron Davis, the implication being, of course, that Kyrie Irving is definitively the pick.

It’s not just the #1 pick, either. Consider the debate with the #4 pick assuming the Cavaliers really do take Irving first. There have been plenty of whispers coming out of Cleveland that Jonas Valanciunas is their top center prospect, over Enes Kanter. In fact, according to DraftExpress.com’s Jonathan Givony, “most franchises picking in the top-10 feel that Valanciunas is the top player on Cleveland’s draft board at this pick.” Sports Illustrated’s Sam Amick posted his latest mock draft and he reports the opposite, saying “I’ve been told the Cavs will likely take Kanter if Knight indeed goes to Utah (as opposed to Kanter), but sources say Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas is also in the mix.” NBA.com’s David Aldridge also seems to hint at the same thing, writing “The Wizards could also try and move up to this spot to take Kanter, but it’s not going to be easy to convince the Cavs to pass up on someone so talented and physical to pair with Irving.”

But what happens if the Cavaliers decide they are serious about getting both Irving and Williams? With virtually every report out there saying that if Cleveland takes Irving #1, the Timberwolves will take Williams at #2 and then decide whether to trade him or else perhaps Michael Beasley. So if the Cavs want both, they’re going to need to trade into the #2 spot. Givony says the price tag to do so in a one on one trade with Minnesota will be steep. He writes:

Cleveland could get involved here since team owner Dan Gilbert is a huge fan of Williams, but it’s unclear whether the Cavs would make Anderson Varejao available, a perquisite for any trade involving this pick.

Now, it’s tough to trade a guy like Anderson Varejao who is a fan favorite and a veteran still in his prime who does so many of the intangibles so well. But if the Cavaliers really do feel that Williams is a guy who can be a huge piece of the Cavaliers’ core and perfect running mate to pair with Irving, then maybe they would consider moving Andy.

So it’s quite evident that there is a lot of noise out there. If we can drown out the rumors for a few minutes and just focus on what the Cavaliers should do, perhaps we can find some resolution.

The general consensus amongst scouts, executives, writers, and yes, even YouTube scouting bloggers such as myself is that Kyrie Irving should be the pick at #1, end of story. Yet a common feeling persists amongst many Cavs fans that even though Irving may well be the best player in this draft, a better overall strategy to maximize value with the two picks would be to take Williams first and then take Brandon Knight 4th, thus giving the Cavaliers their athletic wing player and PG pairing.

It’s easy to see why fans love Williams so much. He’s an exciting player who demonstrates an incredible ability to play above the rim and who is also downright lethal from outside the 3 point line. Don’t believe me on that? Check out this video:

 

It’s hard not to salivate when watching that video and it’s sure to put doubt into the most fervent believers in Kyrie Irving. Yet, the strategy of taking Williams first is risky for multiple reasons.

First of all, there’s no reason to think the Cavaliers can get Knight at #4. If they take Williams first, Irving will definitely go 2nd to Minnesota, which leaves Utah with the same decision they already have in most mock drafts in which Irving goes first. For the Jazz, it makes no difference where Irving and Williams go, it only matters that they aren’t available. So if the Jazz do take Knight in this scenario, the Cavaliers are right back to deciding between Kanter and Valanciunas, although Kemba Walker now likely comes into the mix.

So going this route only makes sense if you’re sure that Derrick Williams is better than Kyrie Irving, or at least only marginally worse. I personally think Derrick Williams will be a very good NBA player and I’d love to have him on the Cavaliers, but I simply don’t see him as having the same chance to be a franchise cornerstone as Kyrie Irving has.

The first thing I like about Irving is his size. He doesn’t have a massive wingspan, but his measurables in shoes (I prefer this method since, you know, NBA players wear shoes) have him at 6’3.5” and weighing 191 lbs. He’s not as big as some recent PGs John Wall and Jrue Holliday, but he’s about the same size as Russell Westbrook and bigger than other elite PGs such as Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul.

That size will help Irving defensively, where he already looks like he has the capacity to be an above average (if not excellent) defender at the point. Last season the Cavaliers’ defense got torched at the point of attack (nothing new to the team, even during the LeBron era) and Irving could be fundamental in changing that culture of exposure at the PG position.

Offensively, Irving may not be the athlete that guys like John Wall or Derrick Rose are, but he’s far from being a lead foot. Furthermore, Irving is deceptive in the way he plays. He uses a change of pace dribble to hide his athleticism from defenders and striking as soon as they get lazy and give him an opening.

Over at Basketball Prospectus, Sebastian Pruiti, one of the most relentless game tape analysts out there, breaks down a comparison between Rose and Irving, noting the similar ways they can use the pick and roll and finish at the rim.

Here’s one of the videos Pruiti posted:

It’s encouraging to see the way Irving can use his body to contort around defenders. He shows incredible awareness when finishing and an ability to avoid the charge. If you watch the other videos posted at Basketball Prospectus, you can see further examples of how Irving can attack defenses with a high pick and roll. When you combine that with his ability to finish at the rim, you see how Coach Scott can design a half court offense around Irving’s skills.

I’m not sure you can say the same for Williams. I see Derrick Williams much more valuable as a finisher as opposed to a cornerstone. Again, that’s no knock on Williams, it’s just more of why I feel Irving is more valuable as #1 overall pick.

Irving is an exceptional ball handler and is also a phenomenal outside shooter. He also excels at getting to the FT line, particularly for a PG. This shows he has the same internal desire to be aggressive in attacking the lane as PGs like Rose and Wall possess.

Over at TrueHoop, Peter Newman and Dean Oliver co-authored a piece talking about Irving and whether or not he is a risky #1 pick. The one thing they don’t question is his ability:

And his numbers were quite good: His 61.5 effective field goal percentage was very good. His 46.2 3-point field goal percentage was very good. His PPR (pure point rating) of 1.4 is solid. And 33.3 percent of his points came from the free throw line, which is very good.

But it is more about uncertainty than ability. John Wall and Derrick Rose both dramatically improved their assist numbers and turned the ball over more when they first started as freshmen at Kentucky and Memphis, respectively. But by the end of his only college season, Irving’s assists decreased — he averaged 9.9 assists per 40 minutes in his first five games, but just 3.3 assists per 40 minutes in his last six games — and his turnovers increased.

Still, the metrics show that Irving may be in good company, as he compares most favorably to Chris Paul and Ty Lawson. Further on down the list are Jerryd Bayless and William Avery, both first-round picks who have not had great success relative to the other players. Others are Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury and Mike Bibby, from which we can safely draw the conclusion that Irving will be a scoring point guard, like these other players.

Irving has about a 60 percent chance of being good and a legitimate chance of being really good. But because he played only 303 college minutes, there is also a relatively large chance (about 15 percent) that he fails.

If Irving had played 1,100 minutes (about 30 minutes per game) at the performance level he showed in 300 minutes for the entire season, his chance of failure would drop to about baseline — about 4 percent — and his chance of being a very good NBA player jumps to about 80 percent.

With Irving, the biggest questions arise from his injury last season, not what he can do on the court. Does one injury in his only college season make him injury prone? I don’t believe so. As long as the Cavaliers doctors are comfortable with what they saw in his toe when they examined him, then there’s no reason to get cute in messing around with taking Derrick Williams.

When you have the #1 overall pick, you shouldn’t worry about maximizing value at #4. You need to take the best player available and the player with the best chance to be a franchise cornerstone. That player is Kyrie Irving in this draft.

The perception that taking Williams first give the Cavaliers more options at #4 is flawed anyway. You could argue that since the Cavaliers already have Sessions and Davis they could ignore Irving and go with Williams and then get the center of their choosing and thus better fill out their roster. But that mentality presupposes that the Cavaliers are concerned about a playoff roster in 2011-12. If we can accept the fact that the Cavaliers are not Championship contenders, then the only concern with #1 should be best player available.

If the Cavaliers want to work a trade to get the top 2 picks and take Irving and Williams, I’m all for it. It would give them the consensus two best players in the draft and the Cavaliers could address center in either a later pick or else next season. Otherwise, with the general assumption being that Brandon Knight is going to Utah at #3 anyway, the Cavaliers need to take Kyrie Irving #1, and then they can take whichever player they like best at #4. In my opinion, this is how the Cavaliers maximize their return value in this draft.

What’s not to like about that?

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Photo Credit: Steve Freeman – NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

  • mgbode

    I agree. The Cavs need to take the BPA, which is Kyrie Irving.

    Getting caught up in ‘best fit’ and trying to ‘play the draft’ is how teams reach for guys like Marvin Williams and Darko (I still laugh when I remember the ‘Piston’s don’t need Melo because they already have Rasheed’ arguments).

  • Vagabond

    Would Minnesota take Irving at #2 if the reports are true that Rubio already has a contract with them? Seems like an unnecessary overload at PG.

    I don’t see that addressed here.

  • Chucky Brown

    im ok with trading Andy if it means we get Dwill

  • mgbode

    @Vagabond – apparently you don’t remember the 2009 draft when the Twolves used all 3 of their 1st round picks on PGs (Rubio,Flynn,Lawson) :)

    Seriously though, since Irving is considered BPA in this draft, the Twolves would likely take him and then immediately auction him off to the highest bidder (if they are relatively confident Rubio will be coming this year).

  • Clown Baby

    @2: Minnesota, I assume, would draft Irving for no other reason than to trade him to the highest bidder. That would actually be a great move for them. That said, we’re talking about Kahn here so anything is possible.

  • Clown Baby

    Great minds mgbode…….

  • Vagabond

    Mgbode – you’re correct. It’s not like other sports that do not trade immediately after drafting. The Cavs are not one good draft away from building a real contender, so BPA seems to be the way to go. Getting value or a role player in the 2nd round would be excellent as well.

    In truth, I’m fine with either Irving or Williams at #1, but I prefer a dynamite PG given the state of the league. I was just pushing to see if all angles have been considered.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew

    Minnesota would more likely try to trade Rubio. Rubio has never been shy about the fact he doesn’t want to be in Minnesota, and his play in Europe the last couple years has lowered his stock a bit.

    Anyway, regardless of which guy they would try to trade, I have no doubt Minnesota would take Irving #2.

  • Nate_4

    Now I want them both.

  • A.C.

    Great article. Draft day isn’t the time to get cute with picks; just take the BPA at each pick. We don’t have any all-stars on the roster right now, so need should be a non-factor. All of the other comments give great examples of teams who didn’t take the BPA and paid for it. Derrick Williams is a great finisher. However, he can be much more effective with a good PG to create the finishing opportunity for him.

    With a true PG in Baron Davis, the Cavs were 6-9 (.400). Without him, they were 13-54 (.194). If we can get a PG that makes Ryan Hollins look competent, I’ll take it.

  • Lyon

    I’d hate to trade Andy, especially with the way he started last year, but if you could turn him & the #4 into DWill, then you’d have to do it. A possibly 1 time AllStar vs. a potentially perennial All Star; DWill wins.

  • Mark

    I’ve been thinking about how the Cavs will handle this draft when it dawned on me – I have more confidence in the Cavs front office than any other Cleveland teams front offices. Maybe its the luxury of having the #1 and #4 picks. Maybe its knowing Gilbert will spend whatever it takes to make the Cavs a winner. Maybe its the
    success of the Mo Williams/Baron Davis + pick trade. Whatever it is I’m feeling very confident that after Thursday we will have the foundation of a new, winning Cavs team. It’s really quite exciting.

  • http://twitter.com/Bbo13 B-bo

    I think Irving has to be the guy at the 1 spot–PG has become too important to pass on the best one. And there is no one on this team I feel should be considered untouchable, so if the FO really believes in Williams, then they should feel free to send Andy packing.

  • 216in614

    Trading Varejao to get Williams at #2 is too risky.

    Unless we could keep somehow keep our 4 pick…

  • 216in614

    Can someone tell me what the point of hiding the fact we are taking Irving at #1 does???

    What strategical advantage does that give?

  • TSR3000

    I don’t think people understand how good Williams will be. He is Iguodala with a jumper. If it takes Andy to get Irving and Williams than so be it. Then we a solid young vet via trade and we are on our way.

  • mgbode

    @216 – the only thing I can think of is that it keeps teams guessing what we really want to do with our #4 pick. with Minny willing to trade the #2 pick it could potentially keep teams at bay until we actually make our pick (and then have a short window to complete a trade). likely, it doesn’t help much though.

    also, if we want the #2 pick, then the #4 pick is gone. but, there might be a way we could get back Minnesota’s #20 pick (#2+#20 for #4+AV)*. this draft isn’t good at the top but there are alot of players that might be there at #20 who can be solid starters (Singleton, Faried, Honeycutt, etc.)

    *I think the #20 pick + the difference in salary from #2 to #4 is enough to cover the $3.5 mil of Andy’s salary that Minny doesn’t currently have cap room for.

  • Du

    The video of D Williams is impressive no doubt…but a lot harder to shoot in a game situation vs a lab. (Just sayin)

    Also, the last dunk concerned me a bit as he lost grip on the ball. I wonder how his hands are?

    Finally, did John Brenkus look tiny next to Willams or what? Wow.

  • Andrew

    Williams is a punk, so I hope we don’t find a way to get him.

    Also, did nobody notice his 160 turnovers to just 65 assists in two seasons? Basically he’s Michael Beasley, with less scoring ability and less rebounding.

    He had a big March Madness showing which shot him up draft boards. That’s always alarming. Then again, maybe he knows how to win and handle pressure as a result, unlike some other former Cavaliers.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew

    Yeah, if the Cavaliers are seriously interested in trying to trade up to #2, then it makes perfect sense not to leak who they’re taking at #1. If everyone knows it’s Irving for sure, then Minnesota will be quick to trade with someone else who wants Williams. But by pretending like Williams is still in the mix, it caused Minnesota to hesitate because they really want Irving at #2. This gives the Cavaliers more time to find a way to trade up to #2.

  • saggy

    I just can’t see how guys can run “metrics” on 11 basketball games.

    I don’t like players out of Duke. Other than Grant Hill. Boozer is always injured so don’t give me that. I’d rather have Nolan Smith than Irving anyways. though he is a touch smaller, i think he is more explosive.

    I’d be fine with taking Irving, of course, but I think Minnesota could be a little gun shy about drafting ANOTHER PG.

    Regardless, I’d trade Andy and Sessions for the #2 pick, but I wouldn’t trade our draft pick, if possible.

    I don’t think Duke’s system translates well to the pros: “”For any type of player, this is a great system. I think I just flourish in the system. We play motion and have a lot of freedom. We play up-tempo all the time, get the rebound and run, and we use pressure defense.” —–That don’t sound like the NBA to me.

    “Great” Duke PGs:
    Sean Dockery
    Jeff Capel
    Bob Hurley
    Chris Duhon
    Jay Williams
    Steve Wojowhatever
    William Avery

  • http://www.60bpm.com/ Robbie

    I would agree to a trade of Varajao to get Williams. I think it would be impressive to get two cornerstone players at the same time to learn the pro game together. Maybe it would make them more willing to re-sign and remain together going forward, if they got along of course.

  • saggy

    i’m not a big fan of links but this says it better than i can.
    http://www.onemanfastbreak.net/2011/05/20/why-jalen-rose-likes-derrick-williams-over-kyrie-irving/

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew

    What do any of those past Duke players have to do with Irving’s ability to play in the NBA? I’m sorry but I just don’t see how previous Duke players’ performances is any kind of indicator in Irving. So is Irving going to fail in the NBA because of his one season at Duke? Whereas had he come straight to the NBA from high school as the #3 pick he would have been fine? That makes no sense to me.

    All we can do is judge Irving on the tape we have of him. His skill sets translates very favorably to the NBA. His ball handlind skills, his ability to play off the pick and roll (both attacking the pick and going away from it), his ability to get to the free throw line, his ability to shoot both mid range and from distance, his ability to get around defenders in the paint, his ability to finish at the rim, his on ball defensive skills. Those are all tangible skills that project to the NBA.

  • mgbode

    Jalen Rose is saying bitter things about Duke basketball? *shocked*

  • 5KMD

    Saggy:

    Hurley and Williams would have been great had they not had unfortunate accidents. Duhon is still in the league playing relatively well.

    And Irving played for Duke for 11 games so I’m not sure I would factor that into this guy anyway.

  • saggy

    @26 – i don’t want “woulda, coulda, shoulda.” I know a lot of guys who woulda been great if they hadn’t got injured.

    Chris Duhon stinks. I almost have to completely disregard your comment because you think he plays relatively well! I watched him with the Knicks for so long. Nobody thinks he is any good in this town.

    Good point, however, on Irving only playing 11 games. But, then, why are we so down on Brandon Knight, who was ranked side-by-side with Irving out of high school? All he did was lead his underdog team to the final four. I also agree with Jalen that Irving is just not explosive enough.

    Also, i think that we could get Knight and WIlliams if we went Williams at 1. I’d much rather have that than Enes Kanter.

  • Lyon

    TSR, I’m confused on how you think Williams is anywhere at all similar to Iguadola?

    & Saggy, Speedy Claxton is more explosive than Chris Paul, would you want him over CP3? Explosiveness isn’t everything with PGs. It’s how they use their dribble, and from what Irving has shown, he can get the job done.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew

    My problem with Knight is that he didn’t demonstrate as many NBA quality tools as Irving did this season. I wouldn’t say I’m “down” on Knight…I just don’t think he has near the complete set of tools as a PG that Irving has.

    I’m not saying Irving is a sure thing. Nobody is a sure thing, especially in this draft. I wouldn’t bet $5 that Irving some day plays in an All Star game. I just think he’s by far the player in this draft with the best and most complete set of NBA skills.

  • Bob

    If we could pull off the Detroit trade for the 8th pick (in exchange for TPE and taking on Rip’s contract) and package that with Andy for #2, we could get Irving, Williams, and Kanter. Now that’s how you rebuild!

  • Andrew

    I like Leonard if we can get back into the first round. He adds a legit wing defender, which we desperately need. I think getting back in around #10-18 is very plausible.

    Irving, Kanter, Leonard.

  • mgbode

    @31 – it’s possible he drops, but i’d be surprised if Kawhi falls out of the top10 in this draft. alec burks is more likely to fall there and I like him as well.

  • Chucky Brown

    @21, I think Kyrie Irving ios more of a “guy who went to Duke for a few months”, then an actual “Duke PG”

    he shares almost no characteristics with the quintessential dukie pg

  • GhostToMost

    Derrick Williams reminds me a lot of Glenn Robinson. I think he’ll either be a 22 ppg guy on a 35 win team, or a solid role player on a contender. Not to say that we shouldnt take him, I just cant say that I’d be overly excited if we did.

    Irving should be the #1 pick because he seems to have the most upside. But hes far from a sure thing. We’ll see though. With all this being said I do think these are the 2 best players in the draft and Ill be disappointed if we dont get at least one of them.

    I think we’ll get a couple of nice building blocks out of this draft, but not necessarily a “savior”.

  • bobby

    I wouldnt mind trying to trade the 4th, AV and throw in any player not names JJ or Davis for the 2nd and 20th picks. It might be easier to have Minny throw on a player that we can take on a contract hit. I dont believe the TPE can be packaged with a player but it would be interesting to see.

    I also agree with that Jalen Rose link. Williams just dominated the tourney and Irving had good numbers against very sub-par opponents in the 11 games played (majority). I watched all of Kenutcky’s games and Knight was the only player you really had to be afraid of. Terrence Jones was overrated. Liggins (i believe) was a solid contributor and would be an interesting wing options in the second round. Knight has a solid jumper and moved the ball well. Needs to work on his finishing at the rim because some of those looked like travels. I just hope the Cavs put in their due diligence with Knight v Irving.

  • architrance

    I would happily take the Irving/Kanter combo. Then we can give our young guys huge minutes all year, while trying to deal away what veterans we have left. NEXT YEARS RECORD SHOULD NOT BE A CONCERN. Just give these guys the opportunity to play big minutes and grow together. Ideally, we’ll get another high pick next year (maybe more if we make the right deals). With solid building blocks at PG and C, next years draft should be loaded up front with forwards. Add in a Barnes, Davis, McAdoo, Jones, Miller, or Sullinger to the mix. As long as we hit top 5 I’d see us adding a great forward next year. So, ideally in 2 years we add at least 3 new cornerstones to the franchise (and hopefully more).

  • AJ

    solid post, couldn’t agree more.

    /salivates over Irving and Williams

  • Roosevelt

    I don’t know why everyone in the media seems to have flip flopped on Williams and Irving. Yeah, Irving is a Duke PG. How many Wake Forest centers were as good as Duncan? Although I LOVE the DWill highlights, he’s NOT a 6’10″ guy that can jump out of the gym. He’s a 6’7″ guy with pretty good hops and great body control. But no one knows if he can dribble, or rebound at the next level. Honestly, I think that I’d LIKE if Williams were the right pick, because he certainly would give us some highlights. But on the safe pick/total package index, I’m pretty sure that Irving wins.

  • bobby

    I think Williams measured 6’9” at the combine. And I would go for the guy they think will be the best in 2-3 years when this team should be hitting its stride.

  • Cory

    The Cavs need to rebuild through several drafts to become a contender. Next years draft is going to filthy with wing players (Harrison Barnes, Perry Jones, Michael Gilchrist, Jeffery Lamb, Austin Rivers, McAdoo…). Hopefully the Cavs will be back in the lottery again next year. I’m all for the Cavs trading Andy and the 4th pick to obtain Williams or a lottery pick for next year. Irving, Williams and say Gilchrist (a high school teammate of Irving’s) or Barnes would be a nice foundation and could unseat the Bulls and Heat in a few years. Plus there will most likely be a hard-cap coming with the new CBA. Trading away Andy now would help them stay under it. His contract runs through 2013-14. The only deals the Cavs would have on the books that summer and the next would be their lottery picks over the next few years so they could add to their young core.

  • Jake

    This is ridiculous. If Irving went to Kentucky and got hurt, we wouldn’t be arguing this. Unlike the Duke PGs before him, he could have gone anywhere he wanted and be a top 3 pick no matter what. The fact that he chose Duke over Kentucky shouldn’t make us compare him to Bobby Hurley or Chris Duhon. Those guys ONLY succeeded because of the Duke system. Irving would have kicked butt if he didn’t get hurt, and would’ve done it wherever he played. He was Calipari’s top recruit (yes even over Knight), just like Rose, Wall and Evans. ENOUGH SAID.