April 25, 2014

Kyrie Irving is the Next…

Within the realm of professional sports, we tend to fall into the trap of Next. We have long searched for The Next Michael Jordan, be he Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or Player to Be Named Later.  Same can be said for Dirk Nowitzki, largely credited with taking dynamite to the floodgates of foreign-born NBA combatants. Who is the next European player with flowing blonde hair who can tower over most of his competition yet provide a wrist-flick that could be featured in The Louvre?

At each year’s end, we create lists of what out versus what’s in and publish magazines where the young and spry don sashes which declare them conqueror of all things future.

But when the upper echelon is not enough of a shoes-to-be-filled narrative, the newspaper ink cascades on down upon the rest of the league. Even in instances where said comparisons would be good enough to potentially crack an All-Star roster let alone the Hall of Fame, we attempt to categorize players of similar position or skill set, measurables or intangibles, coming to all-to-premature conclusions that New Player of Choice is most comparable to Arbitrary Older Player.

When Kyrie Irving was being considered for the top overall selection in the 2011 NBA Draft, we demanded that the Duke point guard be compared to a player who had already walked the walk; we must know exactly who and what we are using this first-overall pick on, after all.  Irving drew comparisons to Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul due to being the best point guard in his class as well as being one who undoubtedly makes his teammates better, but does so without All-World speed or athleticism instead relying on the ever-important Basketball IQ.

Then came the John Wall comparisons. If merely rooted in draft position and one-and-done collegiate careers, this juxtaposition appears fair. At least until one compares 40-yard dash time and introductory flexed-arm dances (advantage, Wall), efficiency, decision-making, ball handling and shooting (advantage, Irving).

When we posted the video of the Cavaliers’ first-overall pick whisping through the lane as if a teenager was controlling him in a game of NBA 2K12, feverishly tapping the spin button, the comments immediately turned into who Irving most emulated. It was Derrick Rose – also a first-overall, one-and-done selection, then it was Allen Iverson and Chris Paul. And, with a bit of a way-back machine-like twist, it was Pistons great Isiah Thomas.

Where Rose can drive to the lane as if he’s perpetually fitted with shoulder pads, Irving does not possess such strength at this stage. Also, where Rose amassed 16 three-point field goals in each of his first two seasons, shooting at what was a 25 percent clip from long-range, Irving already has 10 made threes and is hitting 37 percent of his attempts. Irving’s effective field goal percentage through his first 10 contests is sitting at a comfortable .507. Rose’s MVP season provided his career-best effective field goal mark of .500.

Iverson’s game was largely predicated on reckless abandon and complete domination of the ball. Thomas’s hay day assist totals are presently demolishing what Irving has compiled thus far, but the respective supporting casts could not be more different. Paul continues to be one of the best backcourt defenders in the game where Irving tends to lean into screens instead of getting through them, and does not exactly have Zeke or Paul’s nose for the passing lanes just yet.

Prior to Thursday night’s contest, Stepien Rules’ Brendan provided comparisons to Paul while providing even more Hall-of-Fame calibur names in Steve Nash, a two-time MVP, and John Stockton, the game’s career leader in assists – two men whose respective games are rooted largely in fundamentals, efficiency and All-Creation power forwards.

In said contest, Irving matched up against Nash in a matchup the rookie would later call “fun” and “a little surreal.”  Irving not only provided the waiting world with a career high in scoring, rattling off 12-straight points at one point in the second quarter, but led his team to a victory on the road while adding yet another highlight drive to his resume – this time, at the expense of Suns center Marcin Gortat who Irving had so off balance he looked as if he was infused with a local distillery’s finest.

After watching Irving take on one of his idols, and thinking back to the abuse of Al Jefferson as well as the way he broke out a cross-over move that juked not one but three different Charlotte Bobcats en route to an and-one a handful of games earlier, the epiphany hit. 

Irving possesses the ability to get down the floor with underestimated speed, showing the ability to control his acceleration and deceleration at an ever-improving rate.  His hands - while the media and league fans alike prefer to fawn over the emergence of Ricky Rubio - are some of the best a Cleveland backcourt has seen in nearly a decade as he dribbles through traffic and finds teammates through the slightest of windows. His shot selection, while occasionally emulating that of a rookie, could be classified best as opportune; he utilizes the glass with his mid-range jumper, driving to the lane more often than not, but taking three-point field goals when left open. His defense still leaves a little to be desired, but he has a head coach who has had the chance to mold players like Paul as well as Jason Kidd (who mysteriously doesn’t get his name lofted into the Next discussion). While not as reckless as some of his predecessors, Irving already shows top-flight competitiveness and confidence. He runs Mikan Drills with his dad, helping improve his ability to not only use both of his hands, but provide just the right spin on lay-up attempts when guarded by men of considerably larger stature.

Irving is a 19-year old kid tasked with placing a franchise on his still-developing shoulders.  His game, despite being modeled after countless idols, is his own. Speed won’t be tought; he won’t sprout to 6-foot-5 or be outfitted with a Blake Griffin-like being any time soon. 

Kyrie Irving is not the next Paul or Rose. He’s not the next Iverson, Zeke or Wall. He’s not even the next Nash or Stockton or Kidd.

Kyrie Irving is The Next Kyrie Irving. And this may wind up being the best news of all.

  • Anonymous

    you are no fun.

  • Anonymous

    This happens with everything, music, sports, movies, tv. people don’t know how to process new things so the have to compare then to the old things that they already understand.

  • Harv 21

    He will most resemble Thomas. Just b/c you’re too young (“wayback machine”? Oy, you probably think MJ faced George Mikan) to have watched Thomas play doesn’t mean this isn’t a scarily accurate comparison.

    [Rubs hands together, smirks]

    But seriously, this kid is figuring it out so quickly and gaining so much confidence on this road trip it’s pretty amazing. He still looks like he’s thinking about his last shot as he’s jogging back on defense, but every 19 year old in the NBA not named Tristan does the same. He’s making me want to watch the games again, even on nights we will surely lose.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott @ WFNY

    I most certainly watched Thomas play. Im pretty sure I had his Starting Lineup figurine. I used the way-back reference as he was the lone member of that generation to be named.

  • Tom Pestak

    I find the incessant talk of Irving’s “Speed” to be irritating.  The fastest PGs in the league right now are Devin Harris, John Wall, and Ty Lawson, and of those, I’d only want Lawson as my starting PG of the future.  You know who doesn’t have blazing speed?  Chris Paul.  You know who didn’t have blazing speed?  John Stockton, Mark Price, Chauncey Billups, Jason Kidd, Andre Miller, Terrell Brandon and the list goes on.  The hand check rules have given perimeter players advantages – leading to lightning quick guards (Rose, Westbrook, Wall) and corner-3 shooting power forwards.  Size matters in the NBA, but when it comes to athleticism – quickness, skill, and creativity rule – not track speed.  Kyrie has NBA speed – he won’t be hindered by not having Westbrook’s sprint.  He’s tall for a PG and has long arms to disrupt passing lanes.  What I’ve seen from him that has impressed me most is his creativity, skill, and his demeanor.  He already has the ball on a string, ala Paul and his shot will continue to get better.  His ability to score from anywhere on the floor is special and with experience and improved teammates – he will only leverage his talents even more.  He’s going to be special for a long time.  

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ WFNYRick

    Of all the comparisons I’ve read, I think Isaiah is the closest. Here’s hoping Kyrie has that kind of career.

    By the way, I was surprised to see how closely Kyrie’s stats resemble Stockton and Nash’s first year in the league.

  • Yeah

    Huh? Nash avg was like 3.4 points his rookie year! I don’t think he bag double-digits til like his 3rd season…

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ WFNYRick

    I was referring mostly to assist totals, and obviously Nash did pick up his scoring.

  • Anonymous

    “As if every single player has this other guy who ten or fifteen or thirty years before him previously entered the NBA with the exact same skill set, mentality, and instincts” 

    - My favorite line from the Rules article.

  • EZ

    This is one of the best written sports pieces I’ve read in a while, great job.

    To the topic, I always get tired of the “Next…” comparisons be it musicians, actors, sports stars, whatever. If we’re constantly trying to project who he might be we’re not doing a whole lot of service to who he is now. And we’re setting ourselves up to miss who he is actually becoming.

    I think it’s reasonable to say “This guy passes like X” or “his mobility reminds me of Y” but to go further and flat-out say “he’s the next Z (not Big Z)” pigeon holes the young player while kind of reducing what it means to be the older player.

  • Harv 21

    Thank you, Rick.
    Also, this whole conversation is much more pleasant than, let’s say, comparing Chris Mihm to Kwame Brown. Or Christian Eyenga to, um …

  • Roosevelt

    Anyone else think that Kyrie always looks a few minutes away from collapse? He does seem to have incredible ball skills, balance and awareness. But his posture doesn’t lead me to think that he will ever play 40 minutes a game. 

  • Anonymous

    Luke Jackson?

    (sadly, no Luke Jackson at least had a few huge games in the NBDL)

  • Anonymous

    Or he’s only 19, only played parts of 11 college games, and has recently recovered fully from a toe injury.

    let the guy get some conditioning man.

  • Joemersnik

    Nash averaged 9.1 points through his 4th season!

  • Joemersnik

    Just an OUTSTANDING article…thx!

  • Guy

    Reason! Finally! Thank you Tom.

  • Yeah

    Huh? Again! Haha! Nash avg 2.1 assists his rookie year and 3.3 points. It wasn’t until his 3rd year that he averaged 5 assists. 5.5 to be exact. Just sayin’…

  • Bdog

    Totally agree…he plays with aspects of other great point guards games but no one can drive and score as accurately as he does every game. Can you imagine when he’s not a rookie. He’s going to be/ already is a great player!

  • Pahniti Tosuksri

    While comparisons really lead to nothing, as Kyrie Irving will become his own player… one that I haven’t heard that actually is a pretty close match, would be none other than Terrell Brandon. They play at a certain pace – not fast, not slow, but calculating and takes advantage of defense with timing. Both are scoring PG’s, but have not problem setting up their teammates first – moreso scoring out of necessity. I hope that we may be able to secure a Shawn Kemp that won’t knock anyone up (TT?), and perhaps some young firepower from the wings… Excitied about this guy that’s all about business on the court.
    K-I-N-G King Kyrie… the Next Generation….

  • Blue Devil

    I am a Duke Fan and think K. Irving is the next best point guard in the NBA.  He will be a TOP 5 point guard in the league within a year or two.

  • Jose

    A bit redundant. No sense in saying “previously” right after saying “before him”. Thats a given. On the spot statement tho.

  • BenRM

    While you’re correct, are you really necro bumping an article that is practically a year old?

    Poor form, Jack.