Kyrie Irving needed only 11 college games with Duke to cement his place as a number one draft pick, but great talent shines brightly, and the Cavaliers are not regretting selecting the best offensive player among the 2011 NBA draft crop.
The rest? Mostly point guards. Rubio is the best passer, while Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight are also having solid rookie campaigns. The steal, and surprise of the draft isn’t a point guard for a change, but the Nets’ MarShon Brooks.
Norris Cole, Miami Heat
It’s hard to stand out playing for the Miami Heat, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh taking most if not all of the spotlight. Cole was the 28th pick in the draft after four years in Cleveland State, and bounced around on draft night after the Bulls picked him.
He has only one start this season, but usually brings a lot of energy, speed and defense when he comes off the bench. He’s averages 8.7 points per game, 8th among the rookies, while playing 21.4 minutes a night.
Number 9 – Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks
Shumpert was the 17th pick in the draft after three years in Georgia Tech. During his senior year, he lead the Yellow Jackets in scoring, rebounding and assists, only the 7th ACC player in history to do that. He’s quite electrifying when he has springs working, and already plays 30 minutes a night for the Knicks who were having problems at the back-court until Jeremy Lin came along.
Shumpert is averaging 10.3 points per game and also two steals per game, fifth in the NBA among all players, but he has to stop with the unwise three point and outside shooting. He’s shooting 37.7% from the field and 26.8% from beyond the arc.
Number 8 – Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns
The Suns picked another half of a twin duo, this time splitting the Morris family while Marcus went to the Houston Rockets. Markieff, after three years of playing for Kansas, was the 13th pick overall in the draft. The 6-10 big man is fifth among rookies in rebounding with 5 per game, while averaging 8.1 points. Like all rookies, his shot selection, and specifically his ability to create points in the paint is something he’s struggling with.
Number 7 – Chandler Parsons, Houston Rockets
Chandler Parsons is the first Florida Gators player to win the SEC player of the year, distinguishing himself last season with his crunch time heroics, including a seventy-five foot shot against North Carolina State. Parsons fell as low as the 38th pick in the 2011 draft and spent the lockout playing a few games for Cholet in France.
He’s averaging 7.5 points and 4.9 rebounds for the Rockets while playing 25.9 minutes a night and is one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2011 NBA draft.
Number 6 – Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
The 15th pick in the 2011 draft, Kawhi Leonard has already made a name for himself as a defensive specialist for the Spurs, while notching three double-doubles already this season, while playing 24 minutes a night. He’s averaging 7.1 points and 5 rebounds a game, while shooting a rather decent 46.2% from the field. He’s also shooting 34.8% from three points.
Number 5 – Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons
A big star for Kentucky as a freshman, Knight was the 8th pick in the 2011 draft. He has turned into the Pistons’ starting point guard and is averaging 12.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists while playing 31.6 minutes a night. He’s a bit selfish for a point guard, but can get hot very fast, with 7 games of scoring at least 20 points this season.
Number 4 – Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats
Playing for a bad team is part of the rookie experience, especially when you’re a high draft pick, but no one expected the Bobcats to be this bad (4-27). Like Knight, Walker is one of these point guards who prefers scoring to passing. He’s shooting a terrible 37% from the field while averaging 13.2 points, 3.8 assists and 3.9 rebounds. Walker can become one of the best in the league in the position if his shot selection and wild game are harnessed into something more team-oriented.
Number 3 – MarShon Brooks, New Jersey Nets
Probably the steal of this draft. Brooks was picked by the Boston Celtics at the 25th spot and got traded to the Nets. Pretty quickly, this SG-SF combo who starred for Providence during last season, has turned himself into one of the best players on a depressing Nets roster. Brooks is averaging 14.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, while playing 30 minutes a night and shooting 33.7% from outside the arc.
Number 2 – Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
No doubt, Rubio was worth the wait. He isn’t doing it on his own, but the Timberwolves (16-17) are already a team in playoff contention and even more importantly, are a fashionable and trendy team for the first time since 2004. Rubio leads all rookies in assists, steals and turnovers. He’s an excellent defender and despite being only 21, he’s more experienced than all the rookies in the league, with six seasons of proffesional basketball behind him, two Eurobaskets, one World championship and one Olympic Games tournament.
He’s averaging 11.5 points, 8.4 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game. He’s second in the NBA in steals and fifth in assists.
Number 1 – Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Irving played only 11 college games before leaving Duke, but that was enough to convince everyone he was worth being the number one pick. For the Cavs, Irving hasn’t been what LeBron James became 8 years ago, but they couldn’t ask for anyone better from this crop of players.
Irving is leading all rookies in scoring, averaging 18.6 points per game and 4.9 assists, while shooting a very impressive 48.7% from the field. He’s the number one reasons the Cavs are actually looking like a decent team (13-17) this season.