The Next Great NBA Point Guard Rivalry?
A few years back, before the 2006 NBA Draft, the talent level of the league’s point guards as a whole seemed to have taken a dip. Yes, there were still stars, but there were also plenty of players in starting roles that just a few years previously would have been sparks off the bench. Now less than a decade later point guards are once again ruling the league. Two rookies in particular – Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio and Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving – are not only making their teams better, but have almost moved to the forefront of the conversation.
Think about Rubio for a moment. When David Kahn drafted him back in 2009 and then followed it up by taking Jonny Flynn and Ty Lawson, he was ridiculed and the talk was he didn’t know what he was doing. Following those picks up with the signings of Luke Ridnour and Sebastian Telfair didn’t help. Part of it was the quantity of point guards, but other reasons were people just really didn’t know what to expect from Rubio. All they knew was he could supposedly pass well, was a questionable shooter, and wasn’t coming over from Spain yet.
Two years later, just when many had started to speculate Rubio would never play for the Wolves, they signed him. Then the lockout came and fans had to wait even longer. Now, just 26 games into his NBA career, Rubio has converted just about everyone and Kahn’s choices look a heck of a lot better than they did in 2009.
Rubio came off the bench in Minnesota’s first 10 games and the team went 3-7. It was clear early on Coach Rick Adelman wouldn’t be able to keep him there because of his ability to make plays and make his teammates better. Fans clamored for more Rubio, the media started singing his laurels and replaying his highlights, and Adelman made the change. Since then the Wolves have gone 10-6, moving them to .500 this late in the season for the first time since before Kevin Garnett was traded.
Credit Adelman’s coaching and All-Star power forward Kevin Love’s dominance, but Rubio deserves quite a bit of credit. His 8.8 assists per game are fourth in the league. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.75:1 is not only excellent for a rookie, but it’s still in the top half of all starters, ahead of players like Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry.
His 2.42 steals per game put him third in the league, just behind Chris Paul and within shouting distance of leader Mike Conley.
Rubio started the season shooting well, much better than expected, but has since cooled considerably and is now only hitting 38% from the field and 33% from three-point range. While those percentages are a concern, it’s worth pointing out they won’t necessarily keep Rubio from being a long-time star.
Here’s a little comparison – Rubio’s numbers through his first 26 games compared to the numbers from the same place in the career of a player we all know well.
Rubio: 10.9 points, 8.8 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 2.4 steals, 38% FG, 33% 3FG, 82% FT, 3.2 turnovers, 13-13 team record
Player X: 8.9 points, 8.2 assists, 6.0 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 33% FG, 13% 3FG, 71% FT, 3.2 turnovers, 13-13 team record
Pretty close, aren’t they? Have you figured out who Player X is? Here’s another hint: He’s led the league in assists five times, been named to 10 All-Star teams, six times an All-NBA team member, nine times an All-Defensive team member, is second all-time in assists, and last spring finally played for a NBA champion.
Yep, it’s Jason Kidd. Kidd never did become a consistent shooter. For his career he has shot 40% from the field, 35% from three-point range, and 78% from the line. He improved, but that was never made him so dangerous and so productive, and it’s not going to keep him from being a first ballot Hall of Fame.
And what about Irving?
Kyrie Irving is a different style of player than Rubio. Both are rookies, both are point guards, but where Rubio’s primary focus is facilitating, Irving looks to score as much as he looks to create. The results have been outstanding, with Irving leading the Cavaliers on a nightly basis. At 10-14 the Cavs are just outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, but that’s much better than most expected.
Unlike Rubio, Irving was more of a known commodity – sort of. He played for Duke University last season, but only 11 games because of injury. In that time he showed he could score and could lead a team. His shooting percentages were out of this world in those 11 games – 53% from the field, 46% from three, and 90% from the line – and while they were fantastic and led to the Cavaliers choosing him number one overall, no one expected that to keep up at the NBA level.
But it has.
Through 23 games Irving is hitting 49% of his shots from the field, 41% from three, and 83% from the line. He leads the class in scoring at 18.0 points a game and while the rest of his numbers – 5.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 3.2 turnovers – aren’t as gaudy as Rubio’s, it’s more than enough to keep him neck-and-neck with the Timberwolf in the Rookie of the Year race.
Irving has someone we can compare him to as well, so here are Irving’s stats up against the rookie season (full season) of a name you know well.
Irving: 18.0 points, 5.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 49% FG, 41% 3FG, 83% FT, 3.2 turnovers, 9-14 team record
Player Y: 17.0 points, 7.8 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 42% FG, 29% 3FG, 70% FT, 4.2 turnovers, 39-43 team record
This comparison isn’t quite as close as the Rubio-Kidd one, but considering the talents of the two players it’s apt. Player Y was named to 12 All-Star Games and five All-NBA teams. He also led his team to two NBA titles. Who is it? Isiah Thomas.
Now, that’s not saying Rubio will have a career like Jason Kidd’s or Kyrie Irving is the second coming of Isiah Thomas – that’s not fair to the rookies of the Hall of Famers. It’s still a small sample size and it’s not fair to put those kinds of expectations on players still working on their games.
But it is interesting, those comparisons, and it is telling as to how fantastic each of the rookies have played that these comparisons can be even discussed.
Considering how things have gone so far, the race for the 2012 Rookie of the Year award may be one of the closest in recent memory. Come to think of it, Kidd himself didn’t even win the award outright, sharing it with Grant Hill back in 1995.
What’s your take on the futures of these two rookies? Who has the edge in the Rookie of the Year race? Leave your comments below! Follow Jason Fleming on Twitter @jfleminghoops and hit up his weekly chat Monday at 8pm Eastern.