There was only one true impact player in the NBA Draft — and he is now a member of the Cavaliers.
By making Duke point guard Kyrie Irving the No. 1 overall selection Thursday, Cleveland guaranteed that its 2011 draft was a great one.
Forget about the big-time reach the Cavaliers made at No. 4 with Texas power forward Tristan Thompson, this night was all about Irving.
The 6-foot-31⁄2, 191-pound freshman is a born playmaker on the court and a high character guy off it, making him a near can’t-miss prospect at the next level.
“I just try to be the most complete point guard possible,” Irving said on a conference call with reporters at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “That includes all facets of the game; shooting, passing, showing leadership.
“My immediate impact will just be bringing a winning attitude to the team, but long term, I really want to be the cornerstone and the piece the Cavaliers build around.”
Will he make an impact like Cleveland’s most recent top overall pick, LeBron James in 2003? Absolutely not, few players in sports history have.
But could Irving develop into a perennial All-Star like Brad Daugherty in 1986 or the face of the Cavaliers franchise like Austin Carr in 1971? You can bet on it.
“This is something that I’ve been dreaming about for a long while, going to Cleveland,” Irving said. “They gave me no indication they were going to choose me until (NBA commissioner) David Stern called my name, but this is where I wanted to be.”
Though Irving only played in 11 games with the Blue Devils, he showed enough to impress NBA teams, who zeroed in on him as the top talent in college basketball.
He also proved that the right toe injury that forced him to miss 26 contests is not an issue, eliminating the lone question mark surrounding his skills.
“I proved in the NCAA Tournament that I can execute really well, and it made the decision to enter the NBA Draft that much easier,” said Irving, who scored a team-high 28 points in Duke’s Sweet 16 loss to Arizona. “(My toe) was not a factor.”
It certainly wasn’t, which is why it didn’t concern the scouts who have been drooling over his pro potential since his senior year at Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick’s High.
Despite that hype, Irving wound up being even better than expected in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He shot a sparkling .529 from the field, .462 beyond the arc and .901 from the foul line, while averaging 17.5 points and 4.3 assists.
The 19-year-old also is ambidextrous and aggressive, which makes him an excellent finisher despite his relatively small stature. And for the record, he is legitimately several inches taller than current Cleveland point guard Baron Davis or predecessor Mo Williams.
“I’m not looking to fill anybody’s void, I’m just looking to contribute the best I can,” said Irving, who declined to work out for any NBA teams other than the Cavaliers. “I’m looking forward to getting to Cleveland. It feels good to finally put a (draft) hat on.”
Not surprisingly, Irving’s selection was a huge hit at Quicken Loans Arena, where 7,562 fans watched ESPN’s coverage of the draft on the scoreboard.
That would not have been the case if Stern had announced the name of Arizona forward Derrick Williams, Turkish power forward Enes Kanter, or Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas — all of whom have at least one major flaw in their arsenal.
The latter four rookies also are incapable of helping their teams win now, which is another reason why Irving is the cream of the crop.
Only four players in the last 35 years have been named Rookie of the Year and led their teams to the NBA playoffs in the same season.
There is a decent chance that Irving could join David Robinson, Chris Webber, Tim Duncan and Derrick Rose in that elite club in the spring of 2012.
“I really want to bring a lot of winning to Cleveland,” Irving said. “I’m glad to be a Cleveland Cavalier and I’m glad they chose me.”
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.
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