33pt breakdown: Does Kyrie Irving have generational potential?
Remember when Kyrie Irving before the 2011 draft, was being widely labelled a player who “will be a good PG, but doesn’t have superstar or franchise player upside.” Well that didn’t last long. He only had arguably the most impressive rookie season for a player under 20 years old that we’ve seen (PER: 21.4) and has followed that up by taking yet another leap in his sophomore season far. Kyrie Irving is already a superstar and he’s young enough to have plenty of room to develop.
Yet the more I look at Irving’s talent, the more it becomes plausible to me that it’s still being understated. Here’s my breakdown using the 33pt method of grading player talent level:
Physical impact: Before this draft, one of the reasons Irving’s upside had been doubted, was that he’s not an athletic freak like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall. While that’s true, he’s not that far behind. He has terrific size and strength for a SG (6’3) and he’s one of the fastest PGs in the league. This combination helps him get into the paint and finish with the best of them. Adding to this is the fact that Irving is a spectacular – and possibly historic – ball-handling talent. If Gus Williams hadn’t already taken the nickname the Wizard, it would apply to Irving. Irving can do whatever he wants with the ball in his hands. This only makes him a more terrific talent attacking the basket, which is the key way PGs physically impose themselves on the game. I wouldn’t give him the perfect grade in physical impact that Rose and Westbrook have (11), but Irving being between an 8 and 10 in the category is reasonable.
Skill: Kyrie is already one of the most skilled PGs in the league. He’s an absolute monster shooting the ball, hitting over 40% of his 3s so far in his short NBA career and over 85% of his FTs – at Duke as a freshman he shot over 46% from 3 from the NCAA 3pt line and 90% from the line. Irving’s height for a PG is a key for releasing the shots over his opponents, to go along with his natural ability. Kyrie is on track to be one of the best shooters in the league for the rest of his career from deep and his midrange shooting game and shot creating, already good, will likely be devastating for most of it. The one area of his skill game that is less than spectacular is his passing, but the PG position has evolved where score first players are valued if not preferred. I’ll give Kyrie a grade of 10 or 11 in natural skill/shooting talent.
Feel for the Game: Kyrie’s feel for the game is absolutely spectacular. He is one of the most natural and smooth players in the game and feels as if he is playing on water. Spatially he is constantly comfortable with where he is on the court compared to the other 9 players and makes the game look easy. Kyrie is a definition of a player with elite feel for the game. I’ll grade him between 9 and 11 in this category for a PG.
Adding it up: Kyrie Irving scores as a monster across the board. He’s elite in physical impact due to his size, speed and ball handling allowing him to be an unstoppable penetrator and finisher. He will likely be the most skilled guard in the league. And his feel for the game should also be among the best in the league. A score like 9 in physical impact, 10 in skill and 10 in feel for the game seems justified. This would give him a score of 29 give or take a few points. This score is not only great but elite. There isn’t 20 players in NBA history I’d have at 29 or over using this grading system. Anthony Davis at the moment has more attention as a possible generational talent, but this indicates Irving is not far behind him, if he is at all.
Who does Irving resemble the most to me? One name sticks out: Jerry West. While that’s a high bar for Irving to get to, I see a lot of similarities. Irving’s size and explosiveness appears to be around West’s level. West was a score first player who passed enough to be his team’s PG, which is how I’d describe Irving as well. West was one of the best shooters of all time and Irving has had a historically incredible start to his career shooting. West was a wizard ballhandling and so was Irving. West had a supreme spatial awareness and feel for the game, which Irving also is special in. Overall, while Irving has parts of his game that differ from Jerry West, I see this as the best comparison. While he still has work to do to reach that ceiling, if Davis can be compared to Kevin Garnett, I believe Kyrie Irving can be compared to Jerry West just as justifiably. I believe Kyrie Irving’s upside is being one of the top 20 players of all time.