I've been meaning to do this for a while and now that we have a holiday, I finally have a chance to run some stats and really dive into the numbers. If you have been even partially paying attention this season, you know that Kyrie Irving had a phenomenal rookie campaign. He won Rookie of the Year with 117 of the possible 120 first place votes. I'm not sure who voted for Kenneth Faried, Kawhi Leonard, or Iman Shumpert...but it happened. Remember kids, don't drink and vote for NBA season awards.
Anyway, Kyrie won the ROY award. But when you look at the numbers, his season is that much more impressive. We'll start with the raw numbers and work our way deeper. His surface, per-game numbers were impressive enough, but they don't tell the whole story.
Kyrie averaged 18.5 points, 5.4 assists, and 3.7 rebounds per game. Those are some pretty nice numbers. Obviously we'd like to see more assists from your point guard, but that will come with time. Once he gets some weapons around him, I expect he'll get many more. Another thing worth noting is that he accumulated these numbers in just 30.5 minutes per game. Byron Scott did a nice job of managing his minutes in the shortened season, but his total numbers suffered because of it. Going from playing just 11 games (40 minutes each) with several days in between games in college to playing 66 games with countless back-to-backs is quite the adjustment. Coach Scott was wise to limit Irving and help his body mature and make the change for the NBA game. As the season progressed, Scott started taking those restrictions off his playing time.
Of rookies that played more than 20 minutes per game, Kyrie was obviously first in points per game. Second place was Brandon Knight with 12.7 points per game. His 5.4 assists per game were second only to Ricky Rubio's 8.2 assists per game. His 3.7 rebounds per game were 9th among rookies, in case you were wondering.
To get a better sense of Kyrie's production, we ought to look at his numbers per-36 minutes.
When you adjust the numbers as if he were playing 36 minutes per game, they just get even more impressive. If Kyrie played the normal number of minutes for a starting point guard, he would produce 21.8 points, 6.4 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game. That, my friends, is absurd. That's elite production for any point guard. Much less a rookie point guard who was still just 19 years old for much of the season.
His 21.8 points per-36 minutes were 9th in the entire NBA. Every player ahead of him on that list was an All-Star. Of the players ahead of him on that list, only Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant had a better field goal percentage. Think about that for a moment. That's just absurd. Only James, Durant, and Kevin Love had a True Shooting % better than Kyrie's 56.6%. Once again, this is just insane. It was his rookie season and there's an argument to be made that he's already a top-10 (if not higher) scorer. He does it with both volume and efficiency that is matched only by the absolutely elite NBA players.
His 6.4 assists per-36 minutes was 15th in the league. That will certainly go up, but that's not too shabby.
When we call up his advanced numbers, his efficiency is just that much more obvious. As I said, a true shooting percentage of 56.6% is pretty damn good. Even more insane for a point guard that has such a high usage rate.
His 28.7% usage rate is once again first among all rookies this year. In fact, his usage rate was the 9th highest of any rookie ever (as far back as they tracked usage rate). Of rookies that had a higher usage rate, only one had a higher TS% or PER. His name was Michael Jordan -- maybe you've heard of him.
Another thing that's interesting to point out is Kyrie's assist rate. We saw before that he trailed Ricky Rubio by nearly three assists per game. But when you look at the assist rate (the percentage of teammates' baskets that he assists on, while he's on the floor), they are much closer. Kyrie's rate was 36.5% while Rubio's was 37.4%. Those numbers give us a better idea of the difference between these two players as facilitators. It's much closer than people tend to think.
Let's move on to PER, or Player Efficiency Rating. Kyrie Irving's PER this season was 21.4, good for 22nd in the entire NBA. Of rookies, only Kenneth Faried had a higher PER at 21.9. Faried played relatively limited minutes for much of the first half of the season and saw his PER be inflated by ridiculous rebounding numbers. That's not to knock what he accomplished, but this is a pretty good example of how PER is still a somewhat flawed number. John Hollinger admits as much. Regardless, 22nd in the league gives you a pretty decent idea of how good Kyrie played.
When we compared Kyrie's rookie PER to other rookies in NBA history, he matches up pretty well. Once again, he ranks 22nd. The only active players to have had better rookie PERs were Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin, Kenneth Faried, and Chris Paul. That's a solid list to be on.
If we only look at the PER of rookie guards, Kyrie is fifth all time. Only Chris Paul, Walter Davis, Michael Jordan, and Oscar Robertson were better. Believe it or not, Kyrie even narrowly topped Magic Johnson's rookie campaign, 21.4 to 20.6.
Finally comes my favorite little sample. I know this isn't fair because I set the parameters based on what Kyrie accomplished but just take a look at this group. These are rookies that averaged at least 18 points and 5 assists while having at least .55 TS%. That's what Kyrie Irving did this season.
I'll just let you digest that for a little bit.
Because some of you asked for it, I'll give you an idea of how dominant he has been in the fourth quarter and "clutch time". According to 82games.com, "clutch time" is when the game is within 5 points in either direction, with less than 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter or overtime. Based on that definition, Kyrie Irving actually LED the NBA in points per 48 minutes of clutch time. He scored 56.4 points per 48 minutes of clutch time. That is 6 points more than the second place guy, Kevin Durant. Too add to that, his field goal percentage rocketed up to 54.4% when the game is on the line. Perhaps the most impressive part of this is that his buckets scored at the end of games are hardly ever assisted on. Just 19% of his buckets in the vital portions of games come from a teammate's assist. That means he is taking on the entire defense and creating his own shot. And he does it with startling efficiency.
So not only is he one of the best rookies of all time, he's also already one of the best closers in the game. He doesn't fear the moment. He steps up his game. He's 20 years old.