Top 50 NBA Players: #13 Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving
Resume: 22.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 34.7 minutes, 45% FG, 39% 3PT, and 86% FT… Team record in games played: 19-40 (5-18 without)… All-Star

As you may or may not remember, team success was one of the six areas of evaluation in the criteria I used when ranking these players and putting together this list. Since Kyrie Irving joined the Cleveland Cavaliers two years ago, he’s missed 25 percent of the possible games he could’ve played in, and the Cavs are only 36-74 in his 110 games played. Clearly, he’s not getting a check mark in that category. But when you get a check mark in every other category (some more impressively than others), you end up 13th on my list. Let’s roll through my criteria, category by category, and figure out why Kyrie Irving is one of only two players in my Top 20 (the other being Kevin Love) who played on a team with a losing record last season.

April 9, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) drives to the basket against Indiana Pacers guard Orlando Johnson (11) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Individual Statistics/Accolades/Talent: A resounding check mark for Irving, who some, myself included, consider to be one of the most purely talented players in the entire NBA. All you have to do is watch him and you’ll see he’s right up there with the likes of LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant. The only statistical nit you can pick is that his assist numbers are a little low for a point guard, but it’s not like Kyrie has been playing with a murderer’s row of offensive talent. While there is still a long way to go with his defensive mechanics and effort—which there should be an improvement in with Mike Brown stepping in once again as Cavaliers head coach—it’s forgivable because offensively he’s a maestro of sorts (we’ll get into this more later).

Status: Irving, only 21 years old mind you, is clearly the top dog for a young, inexperienced Cavaliers team. You could easily point to the win-loss record that I already presented to you and say, “Wait, why would Kyrie get a check mark in Status if he’s ‘the man’ and his team stinks?” Well really, how much more could you expect Kyrie to do? Yes, his defense needs to improve and over time it will, but hot damn talk about a heavy offensive burden. He goes for just about 23 and 6 a night, takes a ton of contested, difficult, borderline impossible shots every game and still manages to shoot 45% from the field. And remember, he’s only 21 years old. He’s younger than me, and even though I feel like an old man sometimes I still recognize the fact that Kyrie and I are both very young, and he’s leading a group of men every single night. He carries himself like a leader; he’s cool and he’s confident. The wins will come with time.

Late Game Chops: According to 82games.com Kyrie has been one of the best players in “clutch situations”—4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left and neither team ahead by more than five points—for the last two years. This year Kyrie averaged 53.6 points per 48 minutes of Clutch Time and shot 47% from the field. If you want to take a gander at the chart, click here, but if you want to take my word for it, it just means he’s really effing good in tight games. And if you don’t believe, ask an Oklahoma City Thunder fan.

Reputation: Based on what we know right now, Kyrie is a hardworking, confident, high character kid who despite his young age has become a natural leader. He’s earned glowing reviews from new/returning head coach Mike Brown—who even went as far as calling Kyrie a Pied Piper—and if that isn’t enough to persuade you that Kyrie should get a big fat check mark here, he and Kevin Durant seem to be the two faces of USA Basketball with LeBron James and likely Kobe Bryant out of the picture for 2014 and 2016.

How Do They Stand Out: Here is where the strongest case for Kyrie being placed so high is made. You’re probably well aware that there is no shortage of young, talented, and entertaining stars in the league right now. What Kyrie possesses is a rare cocktail of skill, charisma, confidence, and creativity that differentiates him from any other player in the NBA. I’ll re-insert my foot into my own mouth once again by telling you that I was the co-captain of the Derrick Williams Should Be The #1 Pick In The Draft Bandwagon and it has since gone down in flames. I had no idea how great Kyrie Irving was at the time and would be over time. His ball handling skills are otherworldly; he embarasses defenders with more moves than any other player in the NBA. In n’ out, spin move, crossover, double crossover, behind the back, through the legs, hesitation, Shamgodd and any combination of any of those single moves… they’re all fair game, and he will coolly kill any defender with them. His ability to get shots up in the paint from the most unthinkable angles will make you shake your head and wonder how he even thought of shooting the shot he just made. It’s his jumper that sets everything else up. You can’t let him get open. If you do, you’ll pay. And if you get a hand in his face, you’ll probably still pay. He’s brilliant with the ball in his hands. Just brilliant.