Irving better than Paul, LeBron as rookie?

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Kyrie Irving is just 13 games into his NBA career, but he's already had a big impact on the Cleveland Cavaliers and is on pace to be one of the greatest rookie guards.Last fall, USA TODAY published an article about the Duke men’s basketball team, in which coach Mike Krzyzewski compared then-Duke star Kyrie Irving to NBA All-Star Chris Paul.

When told of those comments last month in an interview with USA TODAY, Irving paused, then said,

“There’s only one Kyrie Irving.”

While a comparison to Paul may be bold, Irving’s performance through his first 13 games can draw comparisons not only to Paul, but to what LeBron James did as a rookie for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The New CP3?

Highest Player Efficiency Rating
Rookie Guards Since 1979-80

Irving has backed up the comparisons to Paul in his rookie season. As a rookie in the 2005-06 season, Paul’s player efficiency rating was a 22.1, the second-highest among rookie guards in the 3-point era, beginning in 1979-80, trailing only Michael Jordan.

Irving’s pace is just a tick behind Paul’s, at a 21.8 through his first 13 games. But that would still be enough to put him third, ahead of the player currently in third place on the list, Magic Johnson.

Among all rookies with a minimum of 2,000 minutes played, Irving’s 21.8 PER would put him eighth in the 3-point era. Along with trailing Jordan and Paul, you can add David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan to the players Irving is trailing.

Who Needs LeBron?

Before Irving, the last time the Cavaliers had the first pick in the NBA draft, they took LeBron James, and we all know how that turned out.

Kyrie Irving vs LeBron James
Per 36 Minutes Played as Rookies

The good news for Cleveland fans is that Irving’s performance as a rookie is on pace to best what James did in his first year in Cleveland, outdistancing James in scoring and assists per 36 minutes, as well as PER and Win Shares per 48 minutes.

In fact, his current 21.8 PER would place him 11th on the all-time Cavaliers list, not just among rookies, among players with at least 2,000 minutes played.

When you limit it to non-LeBron James seasons, Irving would jump to fifth, trailing only the best seasons for Brad Daugherty, Terrell Brandon and Mark Price.

Renaissance in Cleveland

It’s clear what kind of impact LeBron James’ departure had on the Cavaliers. From 66-16 and 61-21 in his last two seasons with the club, to 19-63 last season in Cleveland’s first year without him.

Cavaliers Offense This Season
With and Without Kyrie Irving

At 6-7 this season, Cleveland still has a long way to go to return to its previous glory, but the Cavaliers nearly have a third as many wins as they did all of last season.

After ranking 29th in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season, the Cavaliers rank in the top 20 in the league in both categories this season.

There’s also a noticeable improvement for Cleveland when Irving is on the floor, showing he’s one of the main components of its turnaround. Cleveland is averaging 101.5 points per 100 possessions while Irving is on the floor, 95.2 when he’s not.