Why Kyrie Irving Is the Next Star NBA Point Guard

Roy BurtonContributor ISeptember 25, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 19:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during warm ups against the New Jersey Nets at Prudential Center on March 19, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Chris Chambers/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving is the next great NBA point guard.

The above sentence isn't an opinion, but rather a statement of fact.

Fifty-one games into his professional career, there isn't much that the 20-year-old Cleveland Cavaliers star can't do on the basketball court. Irving is a deft passer and ridiculously adept ball-handler, and few players in the league are more efficient in one-on-one situations. Last season, Irving averaged 1.01 points per possession in isolation sets, 10th-best in the NBA per Synergy Sports.

All of which begs the question: How is he already this good?

After only 11 games at Duke, it was fair to wonder how long it would take for Irving to acclimate himself to the NBA game.

The answer? Not long at all.

Irving won the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors in January of his first year after averaging 18.1 points per game—on 51.1 percent shooting—during his first 20 NBA contests.

He won the award again in February. And then again in March. And if he didn't miss most of April with a sprained right shoulder, Irving would have swept the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors for the entire season.

Instead, he had to "settle" for the league-wide Rookie of the Year award as the cap to a wildly successful freshman campaign. The 6'3" point guard actually put up better numbers as an NBA rookie (18.5 PPG, 5.4 APG, 3.7 RPG) than he did during his lone season on the collegiate level (17.5 PPG, 4.3 APG, 3.4 RPG).

"He has surpassed our expectations and probably everybody in the basketball world’s expectations," said Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott in an interview with HoopsHype earlier this year. "Kyrie is one of those rare guys who comes in this league and takes it by storm."

Irving—who has already established himself as one of the best playmakers in the NBA—is remarkably quick, but he rarely plays out of control. And unlike other young point guards, he's extremely careful with the ball: Irving had only 19 games last season in which he had four or more turnovers.

"He's a great talent," LeBron James told CBSSports.com during the USA Basketball training camp last July. "I see him in a couple years being one of the best point guards that we have in this league."

Irving has a similar skill set to that of Chris Paul, and much like the Los Angeles Clippers point guard, the 20-year-old Irving doesn't suffer from a lack of confidence. At the USA Basketball training camp, the Cleveland star unflinchingly challenged Kobe Bryant to a one-on-one showdown.

Yet as good as Irving is, he isn't a transcendent type of player that can lead a below-average Cleveland team deep into the playoffs—at least not at this stage of his career.

True success will come if and when the Cavaliers surround him with the right complementary pieces. Tristan Thompson is an emerging young talent at the power forward position, and if rookie shooting guard Dion Waiters can make a successful transition to the NBA, Cleveland could have one of the best young backcourts in the Eastern Conference.

With Irving still several years away from his prime, the mind can only wonder as to how good he can ultimately become. He's already placing himself among the league's best, as his 21.49 Player Efficiency Rating last season was better than that of both Deron Williams (20.34) and Steve Nash (20.29).

The post-LeBron era was supposed to be filled with years of figurative pain and sadness for Cleveland fans. However, with Irving at the controls, the future of the Cavaliers—and the NBA in general—appears to be in good hands.