Originally posted on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 1/26/12

In the ever-growing arena of “maybe last year’s draft class wasn’t as bad as we thought” mea culpa-type of pieces, ESPN Scouts Inc.’s David Thorpe discussed the year-to-date play of NBA rookies. Though Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio wasn’t a part of the 2011 NBA Draft, the individual who presently stands at the top is.

Per Thorpe:

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers
(Drafted No. 1 overall; current rookie rank: No. 1)

As a rookie, Derrick Rose posted a player efficiency rating (PER) of 16.05, well below the 18.28 that the following season’s rookie of the year, Tyreke Evans, put up. Mike Conley struggled some in Year 1 with a 12.58 PER (and an early-season injury), and John Wall finished his first season with a 15.85 PER.

So when I tell you that Irving — another one-and-done point guard taken in the top five of the draft — has a PER north of 21, it’s easy to see how special that is, especially since he barely played during his one season at Duke.

Rose, Evans, Conley and Wall all had monster freshman seasons in college and each seemed ready for the NBA when he declared for the draft. Irving likely would have as well, if not for a toe injury that limited him to 11 NCAA games. But no matter; the Cavs rookie arrived in the NBA ready to start — and star — for his franchise. Irving’s stats show the deep and varied impact he’s having already, and that includes helping the Cavs win games. With Irving as their best player, the Cavs have quickly recovered from last season’s 19-63 record and are now legit playoff contenders in the East.

The best news comes in the form of their future. Of the point guards mentioned above, only Evans regressed after his rookie season, while Rose and Conley have greatly improved and Wall looks poised to explode as this season unfolds. Considering how few games Irving has played since his last game in high school, his learning curve is even steeper than the others listed. So as he catches up, his game can take off to an even higher level.

It’s worth pointing out, especially in the instances of comparing per-game totals, that Irving continues to average less than 28 minutes per contest yet still finds himself listed at the top of nearly every rookie ranking. Both Rose and Evans averaged 37 minutes per contest during their rookie campaign.

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