The 2011 NBA Draft was notoriously weak but that doesn't mean the Rookie of the Year Award has any less shine.
When scanning all of the picks from the draft to find some of Kyrie Irving's top contenders for the prize a couple of things stood out to me. I don't believe any second rounders are in the top nine players on their respective team at this current point. Obviously the lockout didn't help but but the group was bereft of talent. Even most of the players in the lottery honestly won't be starting and some won't be that close.
After the jump I'll take a look at a couple of Kyrie's top candidates and a big sleeper in the race for the 2011-2012 NBA ROY.
Here are my top three serious candidates entering the season:
Derrick Williams - The athletic forward from Arizona plays in a young, energetic lineup in Minnesota which could really light it up this year and be a fun team to watch. Playing both forward positions will give him a chance to score a lot of points. But, playing with Michael Beasley could hurt his chances to score and ditto with Kevin Love and grabbing rebounds. He's going to be in a constant battle for minutes as right now the Wolves are going with Beasley and Love at the forward spots so Williams' minutes could be hot and cold. Eventually though, he has too much explosive potential that I think he can do some serious damage this season under Rick Adelman.
Kemba Walker - The NCAA Champion is going to get his clock. The thing that I see happening to Walker though is a really low FG%, a couple assists and some steals. His jump shot improved drastically over his time at UConn but still isn't a great asset yet. That's why I think he'll be incredibly streaky as was fellow former UConn Final Four hero Ben Gordon. He's going to struggle right away to get to the rim but I still see him averaging 11-13 points per game.
Brandon Knight - With Richard Hamilton gone, and Ben Gordon in the doghouse Knight is sure to get a large portion of minutes in the back court. The Pistons even have toyed with playing Austin Daye a decent amount at the shooting guard spot in the preseason. I expect Knight to partner Rodney Stuckey at the guard sports for significant minutes for the Pistons (as I expect Irving to do with Ramon Sessions here) even though they have similar skill sets. Knight truly is a pretty complete guard for someone so young and Detroit is going to give him the opportunities he needs to be a factor in this.
The rest of the Top 10 picks hardly seems likely to challenge now as they all face an obstacle or two.
Enes Kanter is blocked by a lot of players right now much better than him. Jimmer? No. Tristan won't put up the scoring or consistency. Jan Vesely can't just dunk his way to it. Bismack Byombo won't win the award on rebounding and defense alone. Toronto's Jonas Valanciunas didn't even come to the league this year.
The player right now who I think is going to actually jump into the mix though who few think will is Utah guard Alec Burks. He's slotted in behind CJ Miles and Raja Bell right now but I think the Jazz eventually will give significant wing minutes to him and F Gordon Hayward. I see someone whose style reminds me of Dwyane Wade in Burks from the couple times I've seen him play. He can't really shoot that well but uses his solid ball handling and slashing ability to be a high volume scorer. He's comfortable with the ball in his hands, and although not even an average shooter for a guard right now, he still finds a few to burn the defense by the end of the night. If Burks does earn that rotation spot I see him battling to stay somewhat on Kyrie's tail.
Overall, I really believe Kyrie is going to do enough to definitely win the award by beating out Burks and Williams to be the Cavaliers first Rookie of the Year since 2003-2004.