I will be posting my analysis of the top draft picks over the next few days. My emphasis is on investigating players' statistical record, player comparisons, and looking at how different levels of production and skill-sets translate into the NBA. My first post is on likely #1 draft pick Kyrie Irving.
Irving was a top tier prospect out of high-school, and every minute he's spent on the floor in college has validated that rating. In the 11 games Irving played this past year he put up numbers previously unheard of for a freshman PG. Forget Rose (#1 pick), forget Wall (#1 pick), forget Evans (#4 pick), none of Callipari's lead guards approached Irvings stellar season at Duke.
In the age of the hot-shot PG prospect Irving stands alone.
PER WS/40 PPR Ast/TO Pts/40 TS%
Irving (?) 32.5 12.3 1.33 1.74 25.3 70%
Rose (#1) 24.1 8.5 1.77 1.52 19.5 56%
Wall (#1) 22.2 7.1 1.62 0.78 19.1 56%
Evans (#4) 25.7 8.1 1.08 -3.60 23.6 53%
Conley (#4) 24.2 9.4 2.77 5.77 14.7 59%
Westbrook (Soph) (#4) 19.4 5.8 1.74 1.08 15.1 54%
Flynn (Soph) (#6) 20.4 5.8 1.97 2.72 17.5 57%
Curry (Jr) (#7) 36.4 11.5 1.5 -0.11 34 60%
The only top-10 PG prospect in the last few years to match Irving's production based on the big metric stats (PER and WS/40) was Steph Curry as a Junior. Curry was also the only top PG with scoring numbers that can compete with Irving's. Curry's situation/role was of course completely different, and his competition in the Southern Conference was much weaker than what Irving saw in the ACC. While Irving's distributor measures (PPR and Ast/TO) don't stand out among this group, he held his own in the PG role.
Based on what we've seen, Irving is an awesome prospect. The only problem is that we haven't seen much. If Irving put these numbers up over an entire college season I would put him in the LeBron/Howard/Durant/Oden tier of "can't miss" prospects. In this year's weak draft he is still the clear #1.
The pessimistic comp for Irving is really hard to come up with. Irving's small sample of play has been so sterling that it is hard to envision how exactly he will fail if he does. Kyrie Irving may not be what he looks like, but to the extent that we can make projections, they are nothing but optimistic.
NBADraft.net uses Mike Conley as a comp for Irving . Conley is a good match physcially, but they are very different in terms of play-style. Irving outscored Conley by more than 10 points per 40min, and did so at a considerably more efficient rate, while Conley clearly focused more on being a "pure point-guard".
Ty Lawson with a PER of 30, a WS/40 of 12.8, and a TS% of 66 is the only PG I can find that produced similar to Irving in college, but he is still a stretch as a comparison. Lawson was less of a scorer and more of a distributor, and only reached Irvingesque metric numbers in his junior year.
The most common comp I've heard for Irving is none other than Chris Paul. Not bad company to be in, but is it deserved? Paul and Irving are pretty similar phyisically. Both are very good but not amazing "athletes". Irving probably has an inch or so on Paul, but they are both low to average size for an NBA PG. To understand how these two compare, we need to look at how they produced in college. Below I have a breakdown of Irving and Paul's production during each of their last years in the NCAA. We are looking at Chris Paul's sophomore numbers here, but it should be noted that Paul was nearly the same player his freshman year.
PER WS/40 pnts/40min TS% Asts/TO Asts/40 Reb/40 Stls/40
KI (Fresh) 32.5 12.3 25.3 70% 1.74 6.2 4.9 2.1
CP(Soph) 24.7 10.3 18.3 60% 2.38 7.9 5.4 2.8
Both were exceptional college players. Chris Paul was more of a distributor and Irving was more of a scorer. Paul was slightly better stealing and rebounding, but both were pretty solid in the off-ball statistics. Looking across the board I would give the nod to Irving as the better college player. That is no knock on Paul. I've been looking for awhile and I can't find anyone that put up the numbers Irving did, at least not until their Junior year.
So if Kyrie Irving's college numbers look better than Chris Paul's, should we expect his NBA numbers to look better as well? Not necessarily. Irving was a better scorer than Paul in college, and it wasn't even close. He scored 7 points more per 40min and did it at a 10% better true shooting rate. However, scoring and scoring efficiency rates translate pretty poorly into the NBA (ppg r^2=.34 and r of eFG%=0.2; [3 & 4]). Meanwhile, Paul trumped Irving in nearly all of the supporting statistics: rebounds, steals, and assists, which translate much more reliably to the NBA (r^2=0.83, 0.6, 0.88 respectively; ). Paul ended up being a better scorer in the NBA than he was in college (this is not necessarily surprising given that college scoring explains only a little of the variation in NBA scoring), at the same time he retained his collegiate stat-filling at the next level (as we should expect given that college production explains most of NBA production in these stats) and became one of the best players in the game. If Irving wants to compete with the likes of Chris Paul at the next level, he will need to either increase his assists, or retain his impressive scoring numbers. Neither of these is terribly likely, but both are very possible. Especially with such a small sample size, anything is possible.
Final player-comparison verdict:
? ---> a better scoring Chris Paul
For starters, it doesn't matter. With a prospect this good you make it work.
If Rubio doesn't come stateside, the need is glaring. Jonny Flynn is terrible, and (god willing) unlikely to ever suit-up for the Wolves again. Ridnour isn't a starting PG. Irving would be our day one starter, and would be a near lock to improve our performance by at least several wins.
If Rubio does come stateside, things get a little more complicated. Many people have advocated trading one of the two in this situation. I think Rubio is the obvious choice to let go, but would prefer to retain both of them for the time being. Neither player is likely to be all that good in his first year. First year PGs don't historically perform all that well. While Irving's college numbers indicate he might be an exception to this rule, there is no reason to jump to that conclusion. Trade Luke, let him ride the pine, or play him at SG and split the minutes 24 and 24 between our little phenoms. If we really want to increase their minutes we can fiddle with Irving off-guard. Even in the unlikely event that we absolutely cannot get them on the court at the same time, and neither spends any time injured or struggling, the minute allocation should be fine. 24 minutes is exactly what Rubio is playing this year in the ACB (by far his heaviest year), and 24 minutes throughout an 82 game NBA season is a big jump from the 11 games Irving played in college. If somehow both Rubio and Irving prove to be studs, we can move one of them for huge value at the deadline or before next season. No reason to jump the gun.
Best player in this draft by far, and a better prospect than anyone in last years draft class as well. The only knock on Irving is a derth of information. Short of him getting in a crippling motorcycle accident or sleeping with my girlfriend, I am praying the Wolves select Irving with the #1 pick in the 2011 draft.
1. Draft Express (http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Kyrie-Irving-5735/stats/)
2. NBAdraft.net (http://www.nbadraft.net/players/kyrie-irving)
3. Basketball-Statistics (http://basketball-statistics.com/howdoncaastatisticstranslatetothenba.html)
4. Courtside Analyst (http://courtsideanalyst.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/the-mystery-of-landry-fields-and-demarcus-cousins-the-weak-correlation-between-collegiate-effective-scoring-and-nba-effective-scoring/)