The Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin was the breakout rookie star of the 2010-11 NBA season; clips showing him rising for a thunderous dunk or an emphatic block can still be seen regularly on “SportsCenter” and YouTube.
So far this season, no rookie has made a splash quite like Griffin’s, but a close look at the statistical resume of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving reveals a player whose substance more than makes up for his lack of style.
Through Friday’s games, Irving was averaging 18 points, the best among this rookie class, and 29.5 points per 48 minutes, the highest total for a rookie since Ben Gordon in 2004-05.
Although points per game and points per 48 minutes can overstate a player’s value as a scorer, Irving has compiled those figures honestly, shooting .498 from the floor, .404 from 3-point range and .829 from the free-throw line. He is in range of becoming the first rookie in league history (among qualified players) to join the .500/.400/.800 club.
One simple way to gauge a player’s scoring efficiency is to look at his true shooting percentage, a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws. Irving’s true shooting percentage is .583, well above the league average, .522.
In fact, only nine NBA rookies have ever averaged at least 15 points per game with a higher true shooting percentage: Bill Cartwright, Buck Williams , Magic Johnson, Adrian Dantley, David Robinson, Eric Gordon, Michael Jordan, Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal.
Irving’s ability to score points in volume while maintaining a high efficiency rate is exceedingly valuable, but he is also helping Cleveland’s offence in other ways.
He has assisted on an estimated 34.7 per cent of his teammates’ field goals while he is on the floor, tops on the Cavaliers and the 12th-highest rate in the league. This fact is even more remarkable when you consider that Irving’s teammates are shooting a combined .419 from the field, well below the NBA average, .443.
No analysis of Irving would be complete without mentioning that he is still a teenager. (He turns 20 on March 23.) The only other teenagers to average at least 15 points per game in the NBA were Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Stephon Marbury, and Irving is by far the most efficient player in that group.
Win Shares is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player through his offence and his defence. Irving is averaging .155 Win Shares per 48 minutes this season, by far the best rate among that group. (James is next at .098.)
Last season, as a 21-year old rookie, Griffin had a true shooting percentage of .549 and averaged .152 Win Shares per 48 minutes, figures that, to this point, Irving has eclipsed.
Irving may not end up on a nightly highlight reel, but his rookie season has been, in many ways, superior to Griffin’s.
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