For most players in the NBA, the biggest improvement in their career is from their rookie season to their second year. Cavaliers’ GM Chris Grant has to hope that’s the case for rookies Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller.
It certainly has been the case for the reigning league rookie of the year Kyrie Irving and F Tristan Thompson, both of whom have shown great improvement from their first year in the NBA.
First, let’s look at Irving, who has missed his share of games this season, playing in just 56 out of a possible 79 thus far. With just three games remaining, it appears he will miss 23 contests this year.
Irving’s numbers are up for the most part, with the exception of his field goal percentage and free throw percentage. This is unusual because the former first pick in the draft is known for his shooting. He dropped from 47% from the field and 87% from the line as a rookie to 46% from the floor and 85% from the line in 2012-13.
His three-point shooting has improved by a percent this year.
However, his other numbers are up. He’s averaging four more points a game than last season (18.5 to 22.7) and he’s also dishing out a half an assist more per night. Of course, he is getting more minutes too, an average of four and a half more than last year. He’s also getting more steals a game too.
All of this while being the focus of opposing defenses when he is on the floor. Last year, Irving was highly regarded, but this year, every coach knows he is the best player wearing a Cavs’ jersey, and he made his first all-star team. Despite that, Irving has made a quantum leap in his second year.
He still needs to be more durable, and he must improve his defense if he wants to be in the conversation as one of the best point guards in the league. He is talented enough to be the complete package at the point, and with improvements in these areas, he could be an elite player in a couple of years.
Although Thompson still has critics, his improvement is even more dramatic. His playing has increased by almost eight minutes per game, and with more time, the second year man from Texas has made a great leap from his rookie season.
Obviously, the most important numbers are points and rebounds, and Thompson is scoring three and a half points a night (8.2 to 11.7) and his board work is also up by just about three a game (6.5 to 9.3).
However, his is shooting a much better percentage, up five percentage points from the field (43.9% to 49%) and he is now a 62% shooter from the line, up from 55% as a rook.
He is also showing leadership, as he was the most vocal regarding Byron Scott’s job security. And he went out the first game since the rumors started and put up 29 points and 17 rebounds against the Celtics.
If Waiters and Zellers can improve at the same rate next season, perhaps the Cavs outlook isn’t as gloomy as some think, although outside of Irving, it doesn’t appear any of the three can become all-stars.
However, as good as Irving was in winning rookie of the year honors last season, it still shows a great deal of improvement comes over the summer after your first season in the NBA.