The rookie of the year battle was a two horse race. Rubio was the prototypical point guard, Kyrie Irving was the high profile scorer. Both players have definitely helped turned their teams around. While both players are good rookies there are a few things to consider. Both players are very good for rookies, but they are not close to the elite level in the NBA. Also, while both players have helped out their franchises, it’s arguable that they are not the biggest person responsible.
Let’s take a quick look at the Cavaliers and the Timberwolves this season:
Kyrie Irving has been playing well. In fact in the Cavs recent three game winning streak against some impressive opponents Irving has been playing at a star level. Despite his impressive play he did still not play as well as Varejao was playing when he was healthy. In fact, despite having 9 more games and 300 more minutes than Varejao, Irving still hasn’t hit the same totals. Much of the Cavs “turnaround” (they are a mere three games from matching their last season win total) has been thanks to the fact that Varejao — so far — has been putting up more minutes than he did last season. Irving has helped but as we can see he has not (at least not yet) been the most productive player for the Cavs and he is in fact in second place when it comes to rookie point guards.
Rubio was a great second option behind Kevin Love. Last season the Wolves were Kevin Love, an average Luke Ridnour and not much else. This season the great Kevin Love and average Luke Ridnour returned. Luckily, they got help. When we look at per-game and per-minute stats we see that Pekovic has, in fact, been the second best player for the Wolves behind Love. He hasn’t been getting the same minutes per game as Rubio or as many games (which is questionable as he’s sharing time with Darko and Randolph). As such Rubio’s totals are higher, while Pekovic’s play has arguably been more helpful. Like Irving, Rubio has helped his team, but as we can see he is not the primary reason for their turnaround.
Rubio and Irving have been great helps to their teams. Both the Wolves and the Cavaliers were terrible last season. Terrible teams are not usually one piece removed from turning things around. Both the Wolves and Cavs “lucked” into getting multiple good pieces this season. Of course, both teams have also gotten unlucky with injuries. A familiar story in the NBA though, is that credit is not always properly allocated. More points per game (Irving) can get a player more rewarded than being productive in a game (Varejao and Pekovic). Similarly, totals (Rubio) can get a player more recognition than great per-minute or per-game numbers (Pekovic). Irving and Rubio have certaintly gotten their share of the spot light. We wanted to make sure that the players that do the “little things to win” also got some recognition. This is not to say Rubio and Irving are not good players. It is rather to say they are not as good as people think and there are other players on their team that are just a bit better.
I would like to thank Jason Bailey of Hoopism for the story idea. I was lucky enough to meet the Bailey Brothers at Sloan and they requested I do this story. I apologize for it being a little later than I intended. Of course, had the Cavs not beaten the Nuggets it might have been a few days sooner.