Tag Archives: kyrie irving

INBOX: Questions Looking Back, Questions Looking Forward

Could Kyrie Irving be a Timberwolves trade target? (Artwork courtesy of Holly Grimsrud: http://www.hollygrimsrudart.com/hollygrimsrudart.com/Welcome.html

Could Kyrie Irving be a Timberwolves trade target? (Artwork courtesy of Holly Grimsrud: http://www.hollygrimsrudart.com/hollygrimsrudart.com/Welcome.html)

Okay, so there’s a bunch of stuff to review. Let’s cover it by way of an INBOX to flesh out some of the ideas and knowns and unknowns.

First, let’s briefly cover last night’s game. I’ll pass the torch to you for first reactions.

Last night’s game at Atlanta

Andy G: First reaction would be that last night’s game is a microcosm of the Kevin Love Era of Timberwolves basketball. Love put up Chamberlainian NUMB#RS in a losing effort to a “decent” team. No exaggeration here: Love dropped 43 and 19. In a loss. To the Hawks.

I’ve seen this movie before. It’s not a good movie.

So yeah, #fml.

The Wolves aren’t very good defensively. (Duh.) Yeah, they’re smart about not fouling too much and their efficiency stats are pretty decent. (They remain 11th ranked in the league.) I tried to think of a way to capture what I feel like is the truth (the Wolves stink on defense, despite the overall efficiency metric that says otherwise). The best I could come up with is to filter by 4th Quarter defense in losses. The Wolves have too many blowout wins (and almost no close wins) to make their fourth quarter performance a reliable measure of anything. But they have 24 losses in 47 games, and a great deal of those were games that the Wolves *could’ve* (should’ve?) won.

By that measure (fourth quarter defense in losses) the Wolves rank 23rd in the NBA with a defensive rating of 114.5. (In those 24 games, their fourth quarter offensive rating is 100.0.)

Last night, the Wolves scored a ton in the fourth quarter. 38 points. That should’ve been enough to come back and win, but they allowed the Hawks — THE HAWKS! — to score 34 in the same period.

I don’t have it in me to dig into more detail than that. The roster just isn’t built very well, right now. There are too many one-way players. I’m not even sure there’s a single “two-way” player on the team. That makes it hard to win against good teams, or build anything resembling a sustainable formula for success.

So, there’s more to it than that – what of the Adelman-Rubio-Barea dynamic that’s been overshadowing backcourt rotations lately?

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Can the Wolves Get Revenge Tonight against the Cavaliers? (The Redux Edition)

CJ Miles Cavs

Note to Rick Adelman: Don’t let Alexey Shved near this man tonight. (Wait, Alexey couldn’t get near him if he tried. Nevermind.)

The Wolves are at home for tonight’s tilt against the Cavaliers. The tip is at 7 P.M. CST. You can watch it on FSN (most of you) or League Pass (me).

The Wolves will try to undo some of the damage witnessed in their horrific first-three quarters performance on November 4, which presaged a Wolves run in the fourth quarter that fell a Kevin Love buzzerbeater away from a huge comeback win. (Eds. Note: Andy G and Patrick J attended the November 4 game in Cleveland. A photo diary of the festivities can be seen here.)

The starting lineups should look like this.

Cavaliers Timberwolves
PG Irving 19.4 Rubio 8.6
SG Waiters 14.3 Martin 24.6
SF Gee 4.6 Brewer 13.4
PF Thompson 13.0 Love 26.4
C Bynum 6.2 Pekovic 13.6

Several interesting matchups stand out.

Ricky Rubio vs. Kyrie Irving

Rubio-Irving is the marquee matchup. Ricky is a flashy point guard who’s leading the league in steals and is one of the best defensive point guards in the business. As Wolves watchers know too well, Ricky has his problems shooting the ball, and with scoring more generally. Irving is Rubio’s mirror opposite in many ways, excepting the flashiness part: Kyrie is arguably the best pure-shooting point guard in the League not named Stephen Curry, but he struggles mightily on defense.

Ironically, Mike Brown executed perhaps the best in-game strategy of any opposing coach this year to exploit Ricky’s shooting ineptitude, daring Rubio to take open shots and doubling down hard on Wolves post players, who struggled to get any interior offense going against the Cavs’ collapsed, outsized defensive trio of Anderson Verejao, Tristan Thompson (!), and Andrew Bynum, the last of whom has been moved into the starting lineup in place of Verejao.

The Wolves might consider executing a similar strategy by trying to bait Dion Waiters into taking long jumpers whilst shading Kevin Martin to help against Cleveland’s bigs.

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Twofer: A Win at The Garden, on to Cleveland

kyrie

The Timberwolves travel to Cleveland tonight to face Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers. Artwork by Holly Grimsrud (hollygrimsrudart.com)

Andy G: Last night, the Timberwolves beat the Knicks and improved their record to 3-0. This marks only the second time in 25 seasons of franchise existence that the team won its first three games. Setting aside what that statistic says about the past, it is a small, early accomplishment worth feeling good about on the season’s first Monday morning. An undefeated start is especially impressive considering that the Wolves faced Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony in consecutive matchups.

The Wolves won the game at the foul line, where they made 29 out of a whopping 38 attempts. (The Knicks only shot 13.) After a blowout first quarter of steals and pass-ahead assists to Brewer and Love, it was all about survival. Carmelo eventually started making shots and the Knicks cut the deficit to 2 with 4:48 to go. But Kevin Martin converted a technical foul free throw, followed it up with a three-pointer (his fifth of the night; he scored a wildly-efficient 30 points on 12 shots) and the game never got close again.

Patrick J, what’s up with the crazy free throw disparity?

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Special Commentary on the National Basketball Association

Irving and Bennett are going to be beasts this year in Cleveland

Irving and Bennett are going to be beasts this year in Cleveland

Andy G: Our blog subheading reads:

“Commentary on the Minnesota Timberwolves and the National Basketball Association.” We’ve been better about the former than the latter. Most of our readers are Wolves fans, so it makes sense. But we’d like to branch out just a little bit. Patrick J is moving his self to Pittsburgh in a couple weeks. While The Steel City has no pro hoops, it is driving distance from QUICKEN LOANS ARENA. (Eds. Note: Pittsburgh was home to one of the best basketball movies of all time.) In Case You Missed It, that’s where Kyrie Lee Irving plays. With this in mind, we thought it’d be fun to expand our coverage — however informally — on a selective basis to include cool and/or interesting players around the league. We’ll call it…

What will we call it?

Patrick J: Something like Punch-Drunk Select Team (PDW ASSAULT? Too soon?). Gives that shady AAU exploitation feel to it while retaining NBA coverage of players we’re interested in watching anyway. (LEAGUE PASS ALERT!)

Andy G: I like it. PDW ASSAULT will be a short list of players around the league that we’ll focus extra league-pass attention to, and blog about at least semi-regularly. For good measure we’ll add a “PDW ASSAULT” link to the Categories sidebar, for organization.

Without further ado, here’s your 2013-14 PDW ASSAULT roster:

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Summertime (And The Living’s Easy)

Sublime, Doing Time

This is the time of year when you appreciate basketball’s aesthetic pleasures.  You step back, take a deep breath, and revisit the finer things.

You know, the crossovers. The dunks. And the treys.

And I’d be remiss not to mention technicolor sneakers.

Most of all, you appreciate this:

Jason Williams has one gear and one gear only. He’s a fixie.

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Wolves at Cavs: A Kyrie Irving Primer

Tonight the Wolves are in Cleveland to take on Kyrie Lee Irving and his Cleveland Cavaliers (6PM CST, FSN, 830-AM). Hands down, Kyrie Irving has the best handle, and possibly the coolest offensive repertoire in the NBA. That’s the need-to-know. Rinse, repeat, enjoy.

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Links We Like

Is that Josh Howard or Marlo Stanfield? I can’t tell either! (Good thing.)

The Wolves have a new player. And it just feels right. It’s like we were destined to get him as part of a Ndudi Ebi exorcism after Brandon Roy’s five-game trial failed to redeem Roy-Foye. On Josh Howard’s future with the Wolves, go check out Oceanary’s post at Canis Hoopus.

In other news…

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League Pass Alert, Vol. 3: Eastern Conference League Pass Team

Don’t think defense is fun to watch? Maybe you haven’t seen Taj Gibson play it.

Patrick J and I are doing a series on players you’ll be watching for one reason or another this season on League Pass.

Timberwolves fans are naturally less familiar with Eastern Conference teams and players.  This is one reason of many why League Pass is a worthwhile purchase and use of time.  The following is my ALL-LEAGUE PASS TEAM, Eastern Conference style.  Oh, and remember the discussion surrounding Rookie Blake Griffin’s eligibility for both the Rookie Game and the regular All-Star Game?  At Punch-Drunk Wolves, rookies only get one team — so the rookies Pat described here and here are INELIGIBLE.

G – John Wall, Washington Wizards: For the same reason you enjoy 100 meters of Usain Bolt, you should also enjoy 48 minutes of John Wall.  The dude is just stupid fast.  His shooting is a problem — a big one — but that hasn’t prevented Rajon Rondo and other point guards from doing good things.  The ‘Zards have expunged some of the cancer that plagued recent seasons and the development of Wall; they traded Nick Young and let Andray Blatche take his talents elsewhere.  Now that Wall can team with legit NBA talent (Nene, Okafor, Bradley Beal) the hope for League Pass aficionados is that Wall’s game will develop accordingly.  His athleticism is breathtaking and we’d all benefit from getting to watch more of this guy in big games. Continue reading

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SAVE THE CENTER: A Rule Change That Should Actually Happen

George Mikan, Minneapolis Lakers

Kyrie Irving is a 6’3”, 191 pound point guard who left college after his freshman season at Duke to declare for the NBA Draft.  Having played only eleven college games, and without any of the special physical gifts that made scouts’ mouths water over Derrick Rose and John Wall in previous years, the Cavs selected Irving first overall to be the cornerstone of Dan Gilbert’s Post-Decision Rebuilding Project.

Irving’s rookie season and NBA career are off to a wonderful start.  The Cavs are noticeably improved (6-7 at this point), and he’s averaging an efficient 18 points and 5 assists per contest.  Only he’s no lock for Rookie of the Year, even if he can continue this pace.  That’s because Ricky Rubio happened. Rubio is the buzz of the basketball world due to his style and incredible ability to impact games as the Timberwolves’ floor general. Last year, Rubio couldn’t get anything right in Spain. Now he flourishes night in and night out against the best players in the world.

A month or two before David Stern (or was it Adam Silver–I’ve tried to permanently erase all memories of these suits since the LOCKOUT) called Irving’s name in New York, Derrick Rose–another 6’3” guard barely old enough to get into Chicago bars–won the league MVP for leading the Bulls’ revival from his spot at the point. The Bulls won 62 games last year, in large part due to his offensive dominance.

Irving, Rubio, and Rose are not alone in succeeding to improbable levels at point guard in the NBA.  John Wall, drafted first overall a season before Irving, had a dynamite rookie season for the Wizards and has the look of a future All-Star.  Philadelphia (10-4) is a dark horse title contender, starting 21-year old Jrue Holiday at the point.  The 11-4 Atlanta Hawks are starting a 23-year old, Jeff Teague, who was barely drafted in the first round.

Jrue Holiday...really?

Do a quick scan of every team in the league and ask yourself if any DOES NOT have a good point guard.  Sacramento?  Maybe, but only if Tyreke doesn’t qualify for the position.  The Lakers and Heat?  Perhaps, but they’re so stacked at the wing that having a point who dribbles a lot would be more of a hurt than a help.

So, all of these great point guards… does it reflect something nation or worldwide about basketball interest, and an influx of newly-20-somethings that have been dedicated to hoops?

If that were the case, wouldn’t there be a similar phenomenon amongst the bigs, too?

It isn’t.

Dwight Howard is the only center in the NBA who can fairly be categorized as a “superstar.”  And he isn’t a star for his offense.  Last season, his seventh as a pro, Howard averaged a career-high 22.9 points per game.  The only other centers who played in the All-Star Game (Tim Duncan and Al Horford, each of whom started his career in the league as a power forward) each averaged under 16 points per game.

What happened to the 1990s, when centers ruled the league? (Well, other than games that Michael Jordan was playing in.) In different seasons, Ewing, Robinson, Olajuwon, and O’Neal averaged between 27 and 30 points per game.  Today, that simply doesn’t happen with back-to-the-basket players. Shaq, Hakeem, and Robinson won championships; Ewing came preciously close.  Yet Dwight Howard remains ringless.

If the plethora of good points and the dearth of good bigs isn’t a coincidence, then what explains it?

The rules changed.

Instead of “illegal defense” (guard your man or double-team the ball, essentially) defenders would only be restricted to a “three-seconds” rule for situations were they weren’t defending an individual player.  In other words, zone defense was now legal–with limitations–and perimeter players could now hedge down on the post without having to commit a full double team that left their own player wide open for a jump shot.

Why the change?  No need to speculate, there.  NBA Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations explained for us back in 2002:

The illegal defense guidelines needed to be eliminated because they have become problematic. They are problematic for our fans, who don’t understand the rule. They are problematic for the officials, who admittedly have had difficulty administering the rule. And finally, our teams have used the guidelines in a way that produces isolation basketball. Teams identify areas on the floor that they can use to their advantage in a given offensive matchup and this produces a real sameness of play amongst a lot of our teams. With isolation basketball, a lot of our teams began standing around. There is little player movement, there is little ball movement, and there is a decreasing amount of fastbreak opportunities. These developments began with the misuse of the illegal defense guidelines and therefore they needed to be eliminated. By eliminating them, our desired result is to get a game that once again is based on passing, cutting, player movement, and ball movement. A game that hopefully produces fastbreak opportunities because that is the way our game should be played.

Those admirable goals were, in large part, met with the rule change.  But along with the changes were some unintended casualties: namely, most of the superstar centers who used to dominate games with their backs to the basket.  Sure, Shaq won MVP’s and titles with the Lakers, but he was a unique case of overwhelming size and skill that has never been seen before, or since.  Tim Duncan was almost as dominant as Prime Shaq, but much of his play was at power forward, thriving off of a square-up game and bank-shot that is now emulated by fours like Chris Bosh and even Kevin Love.

After the announcement of the rule change, Shaq was asked for his opinion.  All he would say was, “Stinks.”  In the same Sports Illustrated piece, P.J. Brown added, “I don’t think it’s good at all. Zones will bring the games to a grind.”  What he wasn’t taking into consideration were the ever-tightening restrictions on hand-checking that would help make point guard the easiest offensive position in the league.  In other words, the game would only come to a “grind” for posts now facing more defenders from the same island, eight or more feet from the basket.

How many NBA players today actually prefer to score with their back to the basket?  Al Jefferson is probably the best, and it’s up for debate what type of role he can command on a competitive team.  The help-down defense on the strong side, combined with allowing free roaming of the other three defenders, is a strong deterrent to the post moves once relied upon by the best in the game.

Al Jefferson's post game is muted with the current rules

Given that the point guard-to-center exchange rate seems to be approaching 50:1, and there isn’t a single center as offensively-gifted as Patrick Ewing was in an average year, shouldn’t something to be done to remedy the situation and clear the way for some talented bigs (DeMarcus Cousins, Al Jefferson, Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe) to challenge the sort of impact that Rose and his ilk are making?

Here’s a basic idea that is more-conventional than many rule changes that the most-conservative NBA has made over the years:

NARROW THE LANE.

In 1951, the NBA widened the lane from six to twelve feet.  This change, by no coincidence, occurred during George Mikan’s reign as the best player in the league and a flurry of (MINNEAPOLIS) Laker titles.  In 1964, a different Laker-to-be was dominating the league too much on the interior.  With Wilt dropping 100 on a hot night, the league felt the need to expand the lane even beyond twelve feet, out to sixteen.  Note that zone defense was outlawed back in 1946.  So the compromise was reached.

Defense: You can’t mess with Wilt too much; either a full double team or guard him straight up.

Wilt: Get out from under the damn hoop.  You’re enormous.

This equilibrium lasted for almost 40 years, until Pat Riley’s Knicks started playing clutch-and-grab, hack-a-anybody defense that damn-near carried them to a championship not seen in New York since the seventies.  But while New York is a big market, and the Spike-Reggie Rivalry was high entertainment, the brand of basketball was lacking.  Scoring was way down, players were being rewarded for thuggery under the hoop, and fan interest was deflating fast after the (second of three) retirements of His Airness.

Patrick Ewing going head-to-head with David Robinson

But with zone defense principles allowed for the first time in over fifty years, the league should have reciprocated to the tall folks of the hoops world by narrowing the lane.  Wilt and Mikan (and Shaq, had these changes not happened before him) needed a bigger lane because only one player was allowed to guard them.  In today’s game, posts are faced with defense from all directions.  This isn’t entirely center-specific (can you even imagine Charles Barkley trying to back his man down for 12 seconds with today’s rules?) but the seven-footers of the world are affected the most for two reasons:

* Their comparative advantage (height) is most-negated by being pushed away from the rim; and

* They possess the least ability to dribble with nearby defenders.

If the league narrowed the lane back to 12 feet (same as high school and college) two things would undeniably happen:

* Centers would score more points.  They’d be allowed to establish position closer to the hoop and traditional back-to-the-basket moves, like drop steps, up-and-unders, and jump hooks would all be executed from a reasonable distance.  Rather than having to square up and essentially dribble penetrate from the extended elbow, posts could be posts again.  In the 90’s, Ewing and Hakeem could spend as much time as needed backing down their man to get prime position.  In today’s NBA, there are too many quick hands and sneaky help defenders for the tallest players to be putting the ball on the floor with any frequency.

* Shot Blockers would matter more than they do now.  If Darren Collison and Eric Maynor and Jeff Teague and D.J. Augustine can be solid NBA players, why can’t Hasheem Thabeet?  Why shouldn’t a 7’4″ freak who can bat your weakass shit into the fifteenth row be able to make a living despite weaknesses, the same way a 6’1″ lead guard with court awareness but no value added to league entertainment be able to?  With a narrow lane comes quicker helpside defense.  Shot blocking would be more relevant than it is now.

A narrow lane would not make centers unstoppable.  The best post scorers like Jefferson, Howard, and Bynum, would simply attract more defense and their teams would have to hit perimeter shots to counter.  It’s still the team game and free-flowing concepts sought by Stu Jackson in 2002, just with a fair fight between the less-coordinated-but-mammoth centers and the lead guards that will soon need their own league to employ all capable job candidates.

The NBA has made radical changes to its rules over its history.  Think about the three-point shot.  How crazy would it seem to us young adults (who weren’t around when that change happened) if a four-point shot was instituted for 30-footers?

Is narrowing the lane to a width used at an earlier point in history so crazy?  Do fans simply not enjoy great bigs? Did somebody forget to consult Bill Walton?

One final question:

If the league had to widen the lane when centers become too dominant, shouldn’t it narrow the lane when the position is nearly extinct?

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INBOX: A Quick Look at the Top 10 Picks in Last Year’s Draft

Yesterday Andy G and I ended up with a LONG email thread on this year’s rookies. We decided to post an ABRIDGED version of our tongue-in-cheek assessments of the top 10 picks in last year’s draft. Because, you know, it’s never too early to publish knee-jerk reactions on the Internet about players you’ve barely seen.

Without further adieu:

10. Jimmer Fredette, Sacramento Kings

JIMMER! The BYU sensation is off to a slow start. Although I expect improvement, the early signs are not good. Jimmer averaged 29 points per game, last year. That number is now down to 7.6, and only 11.9 per 36 minutes. What’s worse, he’s shooting a miserable 34 percent from the floor, and only 28 percent from downtown, where he KILLED IT in college (and well beyond the pro three-line).

In his defense: He’s ALREADY undergone a coaching change (BOOGIE!) and he’s playing with some world-class BALL STOPPERS in Tyreke, Thornton, and JOHN SALMONS! I half-predicted a King resurgence this year, and so far, they’ve made me look like a fool. Jimmer is not in anything close to an ideal scenario and the numbers are playing that out. - Andy G

9. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats

The Bobcats are WAY lucky Kemba fell to them at #9. The only thing not to like about Walker’s season so far is that Paul Silas isn’t starting him. But that’ll come. Before the draft, I didn’t think Kemba had the scoring and passing ability necessary to star in the NBA. When his stock slid and it was Michael Jordan who finally picked him, I was sure MJ had himself the next Nate Robinson.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Walker should supplant D.J. Augustin as the Bobcats’ starting PG before season’s end and he’s sure to connect with blog favorite BYRON MULLENS for more of these.

Kemba’s numbers aren’t staggering—he’s shooting only 38% from the floor and averaging 11.3 ppg (17.5 per 36)—but you can just tell that some guys can play and Walker is one of them. (Brandon Jennings is another. Apparently they bring out the best in each other.) In hindsight, I’d take Kemba third in last year’s draft. - Patrick J

8. Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons

We’ll see the latest COACH CAL product on Wednesday Night at Target Center. As a young scorer, he’s off to a nice start. Knight’s set-shot is falling at a 41.4 percent clip from downtown and he’s scoring 11.9 points per game (14.1/36 minutes) as a very-young rookie. He’s got a great NBA point guard body, but doesn’t seem to have point guard instincts. Or maybe I’m just spoiled from watching Ricky Rubio. Either way, Knight is off to a decent start–more as a scorer than passer. On that terrible, aging Pistons team, he should be committed to as the number-one guard even more than his 30 minutes/game suggest. Oh, and he’d be wise to pass the ball to Greg Monroe. That’s a way to gather easy assists. - AG

7. BISMACK BIYOMBO, Charlotte Bobcats

Well, at least MJ went 1-for-2 in this draft. - PJ

6. JAN VESELY, Washington Wi-ZARDS

Jan is the worst player on the worst team in the NBA. What does he have going for him?

Her, I suppose. - AG

5. Jonas Valančiūnas, Toronto Raptors

It’s unclear what’s going to happen first, the next full lunar eclipse or Jonas suiting up for the Raps. - PJ

4. TRISTAN THOMPSON!, Cleveland Cavaliers

Twenty-year old bigs who produce 16 and 10 per 36 minutes are nice to have. It’s even nicer when they shoot better than 50 percent from the floor and have a motor like a Dodge Charger.

But Tristan needs to touch up his free throw shooting and learn to pass. His team is trying to be competitive—the Cavs are currently sporting a 6-6 record—so he’ll have to earn his minutes. 18 mins/game won’t be enough to make a splash, but Tristan’s time is coming. - AG

3. Enes Kanter, Utah Jazz

Kanter has two claims to fame:

  1. Dominating Ohio State all-American Jared Sullinger in the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit.
  2. Having a first name that’s nearly interchangeable withAnus.”

AK is in a logjam in Utah’s frontcourt, competing against Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Derrick Favors for tick. He’s only playing 13.5 mpg and averaging 4.4 pts, but his still-decent PER (16.6) shows why the stats kids still believe Anus will come out smelling like roses. -PJ

2. Derrick Williams, Wolves

In many respects, Derrick Williams is what we thought he was. He’s a power forward with perimeter skills and leaping ability.

What we don’t know: Does Derrick Williams have a post game? Will we ever find out? Will he be traded for a veteran wing player?

Lots of question marks. He seems like a hard worker who will have a long-and-productive career. Without a DOUBT, he’s better than the recent Syracuse picks. I’d say there’s a real question whether he stays in Minnesota, though. Unless Love makes it CLEAR to the front office that he’s headed elsewhere in the future, I think there’s a positional problem for Williams that will never be quite fixed. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s dealt sometime before this deadline, or around draft time 2012, perhaps to get the Wolves a lottery pick. Of course, he’ll need to snap out of this recent slump to have much value. I’ve got confidence in him, but does Rick Adelman? - AG

1. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

Irving is what we thought he’d be. He has put up nice numbers—his 17.7 ppg rank first among rookies and his 5.3 apg rank second to Ricky Rubio’s 8.3 apg—and is as EFFICIENT as was billed: Kyrie’s shooting 42% from range, 87% from the stripe, and sporting a PER of 22.3.

Beyond the numbers, what’s really impressive is how comfortable Irving looks after playing only 11 games in his college career. As great as Ricky Rubio has been for the Timberwolves, it’s not obvious that Rubio is or will be the better player. They should have a fun rivalry, starting with competing for this year’s Rookie of the Year award. - PJ

Which dark horse rookies do you like?

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