By Bjorn Zetterberg of SwishScout.com
Since going down with a freak foot injury back in early December, Kyrie Irving has largely disappeared from the NCAA discussion. Senior guard Nolan Smith has filled the void left at point guard so well this season that Kyrie’s loss has seemingly been almost irrelevant. However, where Irving appears to be most significant is in the discussion for being the potential No. 1 overall pick in this June’s NBA Draft. While he hasn’t officially declared yet, there has been much speculation as to if he has already played his last game in Durham.
In terms of status on his injury and return to the court, the best information I’ve read comes from SI.com writer Seth Davis. Davis states, “The program is keeping a tight lid on any information regarding his progress…Coach K wants his guys to assume that Irving is done. If he comes back, that’s an unexpected bonus.” In other words, Irving is likely done for this season, and probably for the Duke program altogether in terms of playing basketball.
Admittedly, it’s speculation at this point but it largely seems to be the vibe coming from reports surrounding his possible return. Having just had ‘the boot’ removed from his right foot, Irving has been cleared for some limited basketball activity. However, it seems to be that he is nowhere near 100 percent ready for game play and there are a plethora of reasons for him to be held out.
For one, Duke doesn’t want his return to be a looming distraction to the program, as they have played well without him and are still in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they can win the ACC tourney. Also, there’s no telling how he will fit, having rehabbed from injury and not practicing with the team, so it could potentially throw off chemistry even in limited minutes.
Another big concern appears to be his health in general, as Duke is aware of Irving’s value and does not want to endanger it for the NBA Draft. Coach K is a teacher of the game who prefers to have his players in the program for all four years, but is close with his players and wants what’s best for them. In this case, there’s no doubt that Irving leaving after this season might be for the best, especially after having endured a potential season-ending injury. He will want him to take guaranteed money and establish himself at the next level instead of risking re-injury and never cashing in on his immense value.
With his return in doubt and going on the assumption that he does declare for the 2011 NBA Draft, where does he stand? Despite having not taken the court in more than three months, his stock has steadily risen on most draft boards. NBA draft sites, such as ESPN, DraftExpress, and Swishscout.com all have him pegged as the No. 1 overall pick from the available pool of players. How is it possible that other, perhaps more proven players or high potential picks, such as Jared Sullinger, Derrick Williams, or Perry Jones, aren’t getting more consideration?
At best case, in terms of every potential player declaring, Irving is a rare commodity in the draft that is far and away the best true point guard prospect available. In a draft loaded with great forwards like the ones above, Irving is the only one who will have the ball in his hands to run a team consistently on a nightly basis. It’s true Kemba Walker is a great point guard prospect as well, but the combo guard who is more of a natural scorer who doesn’t possess the franchise-changing potential that many see in Irving long-term.
Kyrie Irving is viewed by some as having the potential to be the next Chris Paul. He has outstanding quickness, a great basketball IQ, and uncanny playmaking ability for a true point guard. His shot-making ability was stellar, especially from three where he shot an excellent 45.2% in eight games, an area many thought he would have to improve in. He also showed the unique ability to take over a game, dropping 31 points and closing down the stretch in a hotly contested game against a then top 10 Michigan State team. If that weren’t enough, he plays great on-ball pressure defense and snipes passing lanes superbly for steals.
There are a lot of reasons for scouts to love from what Irving flashed in eight games, and he has given them enough of a look at his potential to warrant a No. 1 selection. With a team like Cleveland and Minnesota in contention for that top pick, teams that could badly use a franchise point guard to anchor their teams for the next five to 10 years, Irving is a real possibility. Regardless of whether or not that scenario plays out in the Draft Lottery in May, Irving will be a guaranteed at least being a top five pick if eligible in 2011.