What if I told you there was a new guy who can recreate Lebron James' success in Cleveland? You would probably think I'm nuts - after you were done laughing hysterically in the direction of your computer screen.
Though, I wouldn't dare compare anybody to James from a pure talent perspective, there is a certain youngster who happens to play in the same city Lebron did for seven years, and is displaying some of those same characteristics.
I'm talking about rookie, Kyrie Irving who was the top overall draft pick last June. Are you done laughing? If you are, I encourage you to read on.
Can Irving ever elevate himself to the numbers that James is capable of? It's highly unlikely. So why the comparison? What makes Irving even mentionable in the same breath as Lebron? Let's take a deeper look at what has gone on with both players in their respective rookie seasons.
Lebron was the top overall pick in 2003 by these same Cavaliers. In one year, he instantly improved their win total by 18 as Cleveland finished with a 35-47 mark. By his third year, James helped guide the Cavaliers to the postseason, and he also led the Cavaliers to an NBA Finals appearance where they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
I'm here to tell you that through 16 games even with just a 6-10 record, Irving is displaying some of the same leadership characteristics that Lebron did nearly a decade ago. It goes beyond numbers, but those comparisons are favorable too. Irving actually is averaging slightly more points per game than James did through the same amount of games in his rookie year.
What else is there to like? How about shot selection? Irving has routinely shown how quick he is off the dribble, and he continues to effectively attack the basket. Irving is shooting just under 51 percent from the field, and 42 percent from 3-point range. Those numbers put him among the top guards in the NBA this season. Plus, he's doing all of this while averaging less than 28 minutes per game.
Are the assist numbers low, and the turnovers high? They are, but through all of the good he is still a 19-year old kid who is adjusting to the NBA grind. Plus, his rookie season (along with all other rookies) is different than a typical year with the condensed schedule. All of these kids are basically adjusting on the fly, which makes the play of Irving even more impressive.
Plus, the Cavaliers try to slow opponents down considering they don't have too many guys that can run the floor. On Tuesday night against Miami, Byron Scott's bunch did a solid job for the full game nearly eliminating the fast break from Miami's arsenal. The Heat still won, but it was a battle to the end against a Cavaliers squad that is just average offensively.
Remember also the two main contributors Lebron had on that team back in 2003. He had a young Carlos Boozer (who played 75 games that year), and Zydrunas Ilgauskas who averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds per game. Compare that to Irving who has another international big guy in Anderson Varejao and Antawn Jamison whose best days are well behind him. Varejao is a scrappy player who can clean up the boards effectively, but doesn't have the offensive game that an Ilgauskas had back in his prime. So you could argue that Lebron had a better front court from an offensive standpoint than Irving does. There's also Tristan Thompson who has shown some flashes, but is still a rookie who needs to get a little stronger. Thompson is also battling an ankle injury that kept him out of the loss to Miami.
Irving also came from a disciplined system at Duke. He has the work ethic, and the will to get better. So keep that in mind when you study and pick apart his performances on a nightly basis.
Will we ever see the next Lebron James in Cleveland? On talent, the answer is no. However, can we see somebody duplicate what Lebron did for that franchise? I would venture to say that Irving in that focus, has that kind of potential.
Since we're one calendar month into the season, here are some of the things I've noticed from the NBA landscape this year.
- Are you understanding, Hornets fans? Because this year is a mulligan. With Eric Gordon, this current roster is probably around a .500 team. Without Gordon, you see how New Orleans struggles to score. Nobody else can create their own shot outside of Jarrett Jack who is putting together a pretty good individual season.
- That said, are you looking more for Ohio State, Kentucky, or North Carolina games? Remember, the Hornets also have Minnesota's pick, which was dealt to the Los Angeles Clippers from the Chris Paul trade. That selection looks like it will be somehwere in the 7 to 10 range. The Timberwolves won't make the playoffs, but they are improved. It's still a young team though that has trouble in the 4th quarter of close games.
- Sticking with the Timberwolves, I'll admit I was one of the skeptics about Ricky Rubio. I thought he was a one-trick pony who deferred too much offensively. He's not only showing a better offensive game, but his passing is as creative and as pin-point as you would expect from a veteran like Steve Nash.
- How about some surprises? The Philadelphia 76ers have gotten out of the blocks quickly, but are they as surprising? Look at their roster. Outside of their star player in Andre Igoudala, Philadelphia has an exciting group of players. Jrue Holiday continues to get a better handle on the point guard position. Lou Williams is a 6th man of the year candidate. That's just scratching the surface of this roster, which has the potential to be more than just a postseason also-ran.
- The talk has cooled on Portland after they've dropped some games following a hot start. Is this a team that wasn't used to the high praise? Time will tell, but their roster can match up with almost anybody else in the Western Conference over a seven-game series. They have one of the top power forwards in the game in LaMarcus Aldridge, a veteran inside game, and length on the perimeter.
- You may have the likes of Aldridge, Kevin Love, and Blake Griffin who steal all the headlines at the power forward position. However, quietly having a really good year in the same position is former Louisiana Tech product, Paul Millsap. He has carried the Utah Jazz to wins on a handful of occasions, and is playing at an all star level. Plus, the Jazz are the most surprising team in the West so far while sitting at 10-5 after a 1-3 start.
- I was a chalk eater before the season, and one month has not changed my mind at all. I still like Miami to get to the Finals, and beat Oklahoma City en route to Lebron's first ring. However, look at how the Heat have played out 4th quarters. Chris Bosh has been huge in several games this season, while James has not seized the moment in quite a few stretch runs this season. Still, I don't see anybody in the East that can take the Heat in a series, and that includes Chicago whose offense goes through too many cold streaks.
- Everybody was in love with the New York Knicks to start the year. To an extent, I get it. They focused more on defense with the signing of Tyson Chandler and the drafting of Iman Shumpert. However, defense is more than just the players. It's a culture, and that's where Mike D'Antoni has failed this franchise so far. They're a playoff caliber team, but not the threat to go deep in the playoffs that most thought before the season started. Plus, there's one basic thing that the Knicks are lacking in a big way- they don't have enough offense from their guards. Shumpert, Toney Douglas, and Mike Bibby have struggled with consistency. Shumpert and Douglas also have limited range, and aren't real threats to knock down outside shots. That makes it easier to defend the stars like Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire.
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