No Country For Old Ballers

Apparently 11 games is all a college player needs to play and NBA scouts need to see to know what a No. 1 overall draft pick looks like. Or the potential of a player has just become too much for NBA organizations to pass up.

That was evident with the announcement that Duke point guard Kyrie Irving, who missed 26 games during his freshman season due to a big toe injury, is declaring for the NBA Draft. Despite only playing in 11 games, in which he started eight, Irving is listed on many mock drafts as the top pick in this year’s draft.

Irving average 17.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists during his injury-shortened freshman campaign with the Blue Devils. He dazzled the Duke faithful early in the season scoring 31 points against a Michigan State team that proved wasn’t as talented as many experts thought.

Irving injured his big toe against Butler and wasn’t able to get back on the court until the NCAA tournament. The 6-foot-2 guard came off the bench in three tournament games for Duke, including a 28-point game in a loss to Arizona.

Can teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors or Sacramento Kings risk their franchise on 11 games worth of an evaluation?

The Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards are the last two franchises to select a freshman point guards with the No. 1 overall pick. The Bulls went with Derrick Rose and are 57-20 and 1 ½ games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the NBA.

Point guard Derrick Rose has led the Bulls to the top record in the East and is a leading MVP candidate.

Rose is the leading candidate in the race for the Most Valuable Player award and has the Bulls roaring toward an NBA title for the first time since the Michael Jordan era.

 

The last point guard to be selected first overall, Wizards rookie John Wall, has been overshadowed by Blake Griffin this season, but has had an impressive season averaging 16.2 points, 8.7 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game. The Wizards are hopeful they can add a couple more pieces around Wall and see the same success the Bulls are having with Rose.

There is a distinct difference, however, in the scouting of Wall and Rose compared to Irving. Rose started and played his entire freshman year with the University of Memphis, leading the Tigers to the NCAA championship game. Wall led the University of Kentucky to the Elite Eight and started every game for the Wildcats.

Both players had to face adversity throughout the season and their talent was proven during an entire college season.

Has the NBA seen enough film on Irving to know that he is ready for the rigors of an 82-game season?

It’s a risk that Irving and NBA franchises are willing to make for success. The risk for Irving, however, is much bigger personally in declaring for this season’s draft. With the labor negotiations going south quickly and several experts predicting a work stoppage, Irving could be playing pick-up basketball with no paycheck next season compared to honing is skills in his sophomore season at Duke.

Ohio State center Jared Sullinger was quick to make his decision to come back for his sophomore year and there are rumors that North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes is leaning toward staying in school as well.

Arizona forward Derrick Williams along with Kentucky freshman Brandon Knight and forward Terrence Jones have yet to make their decisions as well. Underclassmen have until April 24 to make up their minds about declaring for the NBA draft.

The risk is outweighing the rewards for many underclassmen trying to decide whether to make the jump to the NBA this season. For many of the underclassmen, their stocks will neither rise nor fall if they return to school.

Sullinger is a top-5 pick whenever he decides to make the move to the NBA and Barnes could be the overall No. 1 pick in next year’s draft if he leads the Tar Heels to a national championship in 2012.

Williams, Knight and Jones will all be considered top-10 picks in next year’s draft, if not top-5 selections.

The NBA could see many underclassmen choose to keep playing competitive basketball in college next year instead of waiting to collect a paycheck while playing pick-up games. And that might not be such a bad thing for college basketball or the NBA.

Way too many players have made the jump to the NBA too soon and the talent pool along with the play on the court has suffered because of it. The aforementioned underclassmen who have not declared for the NBA draft could only benefit from playing at least one more season of college basketball.

They can provide a more complete body of work displaying their talent on the court and easing the mind of NBA organizations, knowing they aren’t taking as much of a risk.

Irving is a risk with an unknown reward.

And with the first pick in the NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select……?

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About Charles Gonzalez

Charles Gonzalez has been a sports writer for 13 years. He has covered the NFL, NBA, MLB, College and high school sports during his career. He was a beat writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and also covered the Cleveland Indians during spring training for 8 years.
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