Irving better than Paul, LeBron as rookie?

January, 19, 2012
1/19/12
1:44
PM ET

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty ImagesKyrie Irving is just 13 games into his NBA career, but he's already had a big impact on the Cleveland Cavaliers and is on pace to be one of the greatest rookie guards.
Last fall, USA TODAY published an article about the Duke men’s basketball team, in which head coach Mike Krzyzewski compared then-Duke star Kyrie Irving to NBA All-Star Chris Paul.

When told of those comments last month in an interview with USA TODAY, Irving paused, then said,

“There’s only one Kyrie Irving.”

While a comparison to Paul may be bold, Irving’s performance through his first 13 games can draw comparisons not only to Paul, but is also surpassing what LeBron James did as a rookie for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The New CP3?
Irving has backed up his comparisons to Paul in his rookie season. As a rookie in the 2005-06 season, Paul’s player efficiency rating was a 22.1, the second-highest among rookie guards in the three-point era, beginning in 1979-80, trailing only Michael Jordan.

Irving’s pace is just a tick behind Paul’s, at a 21.8 through his first 13 games. But that would still be enough to put him third, ahead of the current third-place on the list, Magic Johnson.

Among all rookies with a minimum 2,000 minutes played, Irving’s 21.8 PER would put him eighth in the three-point era. Along with trailing Jordan and Paul, you can add players like David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan to the players Irving is trailing.

Who Needs LeBron?
Previous to Irving, the last time the Cavaliers had the first pick in the NBA Draft, they took LeBron James, and we all know how that turned out.

The good news for Cleveland fans is that Irving’s performance as a rookie is on pace to best what James did his first year in Cleveland, outdistancing James in scoring and assists per 36 minutes, as well as Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares per 48 minutes.

In fact, his current 21.8 PER would place him 11th on the all-time Cavaliers list, not just among rookies, among players with at least 2,000 minutes played.

When you limit it to non-LeBron James seasons, Irving would jump to fifth, trailing only the best seasons for Brad Daugherty, Terrell Brandon and Mark Price.

Renaissance in Cleveland
It’s clear what kind of impact LeBron James’ departure had on the Cavaliers. From 66-16 and 61-21 in his last two seasons with the Club, to 19-63 last season in Cleveland’s first year without him.

At 6-7 this season, Cleveland still has a lot of room to go to return to their previous glory, but the Cavaliers nearly have a third as many wins as they did all of last season.

After ranking 29th in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season, the Cavaliers rank in the top 20 in the league in both categories this season.

There’s also a noticeable improvement for Cleveland when Irving is on the floor, showing he’s one of the main components of their turnaround. Cleveland is averaging 101.5 points per 100 possessions while Irving is on the floor, 95.2 when he’s not.

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