By: Martin Sumners
Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers was named the 2012 Rookie of the Year, beating out another point guard Ricky Rubio of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The ascent has been rapid for the 19-year-old former New Jersey high school player from St. Patrick’s who last year, due to an injury, played just 11 games as a freshman at Duke.
Irving, who had averages of 18.5 ppg, 5.4 apg and 3.7 rpg while shooting at a .469 clip would have likely won, but Rubio’s season-ending injury two-thirds through the compacted campaign may have cinched it for the number one overall selection of the most recent draft. His first-place finish also prevented a trend of having a player not selected in the preceding draft class win the award. Last season, Blake Griffin won after missing his entire first year due to a knee injury and then Spaniard Rubio, although drafted in 2009 played the previous two seasons in Europe.
However, the rivalry between Irving and Rubio may not end with this single award. The two players represent the poles of how to play the point guard. Irving is the scorer who can distribute whereas Rubio is the distributor who can score.
Rubio plays with a languid and giddy delight like that captured by Miles Davis’ triumphant album “Sketches of Spain” as he sets up teammates for baskets with passes through a byzantine wall of defenders. Irving, on the other hand, plays with mercurial steeliness who astounds as he finishes at the rim by slithering through a nascent crack or absorbing contact from larger men as he scores.
The toughness and quiet resolve Irving possesses may stem from his past. He grew up without his mother, Elizabeth, who died when he was just four years old leaving his father, Drederick, who played professional basketball in Australia (where Irving was born) to raise him. His father escaped death not too long after that in 2001 when he was working at the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attack.
His father taught him the game of life and basketball and the end result on the court seems to be a cross between the raw explosiveness of Derrick Rose mixed with the wiry strength of Allen Iverson. But while these two MVP award winning point guards would serve as the heights that Irving could attain, there are ominous pitfalls that have stricken his kind.
Two previous point guards highly drafted from the state of New Jersey who also played for Duke had misfortune ruin their careers. It may even be a curse. Former Jersey schoolboy standout (St. Anthony’s) and Duke star Bobby Hurley, in the midst of his rookie season for the Sacramento Kings suffered injuries in an automobile accident that for all intents and purposes ended his career. A few years later, Jay Williams (St. Joseph’s) after leaving Duke was selected third overall by the Chicago Bulls. However, following his rookie season, he had an offseason motorcycle accident and he never played another minute in the NBA. Hopefully, the hex is over.
Martin Sumners is an NBA columnist for IamaGM.com. Find out more about Martin at sumsoul.com and follow him on Twitter @sumsoul.