Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose are two of the best
young point guards in the league. One is going into his third season as a 21 year old with an All Star appearance under his belt, and has one of the best all-around skill sets we've seen out of a point guard since Chris Paul. The other is a 24 year old superstar, who was awarded an MVP in just his third season in the league. So as Irving enters his third season as a pro I figured it might be good to see how the two former first overall picks careers match up.
Here are both players' advanced stats after their first two seasons in the league. Can you guess which player is which?
Think you got it? Player A is Kyrie Irving and Player B is Derrick Rose. When I first got the idea for this I had a feeling that the numbers might be close. I did not, however, think that Kyrie Irving's advanced stats would be superior to Rose's in almost every category.
How does Kyrie compare to Derrick Rose?
Clearly, there are a few areas that stand out. We know that Kyrie needs to take better care of the ball and that shows up in his TOV%, which is 1.3% higher than Rose's. Derrick Rose also had an edge in defensive win shares and win shares in general (a lot of that has to do with the teams that they are on and the number of games played). We know that Rose took a massive jump in his third season that propelled him to being named league MVP. How do his MVP numbers compare to Irving's right now?
Those numbers start to paint a picture of what Irving needs to do in order to enter the MVP conversation. Obviously in order to truly be considered for league MVP, Irving is going to need to stay on the floor. He has no recurring injuries and it seems likely that many of his little injuries were more tanking related than we realize.
It's interesting to look at the similarities in the early years of both players' careers. Rose and Irving both played extremely well in their first two seasons and likely helped their teams win more games than their rosters deserved. Then, both organizations decided to shake things up as their young stars entered their third years. They both fired their head coaches, even if they were not viewed as the main problem with their teams and replaced them with defensive-minded head coaches. Both front offices made an apparent shift in spending money to surround their stars with a supporting cast to maximize their abilities. While it remains to be seen whether or not the shift in personnel, on and off the court, will have have the same kind of impact over the next couple years as it has with the Bulls; it certainly helps provide the Cavs franchise player with more tools to help him realize his full potential as a point guard.
How can Kyrie improve?
So what exactly does Kyrie Irving need to do in order to make a similar third-year jump? There are certain things Rose did entering his third season that Irving would be wise to add to his own game.
First of all, Rose made a switch in his form when attacking the rim. While players like Rose and Irving can contort themselves to avoid contact and convert unbelievable layups, doing so can put their bodies in jeopardy. Rose had not missed the same amount of games as Irving has early in his career, but he still had a few nagging injuries that came as a result of crashing into the floor after exposing his body while attempting to avoid contact. In order to combat this he started initiating contact more and accepting the trip to the free throw line. Making this switch, his free throw attempts per game increased from 4.2 to 6.6. Some of that increase is due to more "superstar calls," which Irving will surely see increase as well. But the primary reason that Rose got to the line so much more in his MVP season was that he stopped trying to avoid contact. His efficiency got a major boost when he started trading some crazy difficult layup attempts for trips to the charity stripe.
Secondly, the improved supporting cast and coaching resulted in Rose increasing his assists per game from 6.0 to 7.7. A similar increase in Irving's assist numbers (currently at 5.9 APG) seems within reason given that his assist percentage was 2% higher than Rose's in his second season. For this to come to fruition it will take some substantial growth from Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller. The additions of Anthony Bennett, Jarrett Jack, and Andrew Bynum (maybe?) will help with that as well. While we don't know exactly what the Cavaliers offense will look like this season under the watch of Igor Kokoskov and the other experienced assistant coaches on the staff, it will likely consist of fewer Irving isolations and more pick and rolls. That should boost Kyrie's assist numbers.
But if Kyrie truly wants to differentiate himself from Derrick Rose While he will always be asked to shoulder a large load on offense, he sometimes tries to do too much. Irving is a deadly scorer in the clutch, but he turned the ball over at an alarming rate of 7.6 TO's per 36 minutes in "clutch" situations during the 2012-2013 season. If he can improve his decision making and not force the issue in these situations, he can go from a great player to a truly elite performer.
I would be remiss to speak about where Kyrie Irving could get better without bringing up his defense. While he improved a bit last season it was evident that the effort was not there on a consistent basis. Irving has talked a lot this offseason about getting into better shape, so that he can give better effort on both ends of the floor. The hope is that Mike Brown will help everybody, not just Irving, improve as defenders. Regardless, I won't lose a ton of sleep over Irving's development on defense since I don't value it as much as some other people. It's important to remember that Derrick Rose had the reputation as a terrible defender before Tom Thibodeau arrived in Chicago. Rose took substantial strides in improving his defense, but he still wasn't particularly good. Despite this, Chicago consistently has an elite defense thanks to the scheme and the talent around him.
While many questions remain in the career of Kyrie Irving, there is no question that he has been incredibly impressive up to this point. And his numbers are almost unprecedented at such a young age. Now comes the time for him to keep pushing himself in order to improve and fully realize his ridiculous potential.