Isaiah Thomas or Kyrie Irving: Better Pick in 2011?

Mar 5, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) and Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) during the first quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 5, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) and Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) during the first quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving were selected on the opposite ends of the 2011 NBA Draft, but which pick became more valuable?

Kyrie Irving is currently representing Team USA in the Olympics this summer, while Isaiah Thomas is sitting at home waiting for the start of the season. Both are two of the best point guards in the game, with Irving making three All-Star teams throughout his five-year career and Thomas coming off his first in 2015/16. Despite both players reaching stardom in the NBA, their paths to this point were as different as you could get.

Both Irving and Thomas were selected in the 2011 NBA Draft. Although, Irving was a one-and-done prospect coming off playing just 11 games as a freshman at Duke. Even with just 303 collegiate minutes under his belt, due to an injury-plagued freshman year, there was little doubt that Irving was deserving of being the top pick in the draft.

He was the top-rated point guard in the Class of 2010, according to ESPN, being the only five-star recruit in Duke’s class that year. Only Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger were ranked higher than Irving coming out of high school. He’d been a superstar since high school, therefore it was only fitting that he was viewed as the top pick in the 2011 Draft, despite barely playing as a freshman. To be fair, it was one of the weaker drafts in recent memory, with little competition to Irving as the top pick.

On the polar opposite end of the 2011 NBA Draft, there was Isaiah Thomas. A 5-9 point guard that some didn’t think would even make an NBA roster. Second rounders aren’t guaranteed a roster spot, meaning Thomas had to prove in summer league and training camp that his small stature wouldn’t impede him from being at least a decent NBA player.

Thomas being the last pick in the draft was actually an improvement compared to him coming out of high school, when deciding to attend Washington. Unlike Kyrie Irving who received a 97 rating by ESPN, Isaiah Thomas only received a 76 rating – ranked as the 65th best point guard in the Class of 2008. In fact, Thomas was the lowest ranked player in Washington’s class – behind Elston Turner Jr., Scott Suggs and Tyreese Breshers; none appeared in the NBA.

Just like at every level, Thomas had to prove himself at Washington, but once he did, just like at every level, he became an integral part to the team. Granted it took Thomas three years before building his stock up enough to barely get drafted, but he came into Washington and impressed with his offense, building on it every season.

Of course, if Thomas were to take the route that Irving did and be a one-and-done, we would have forgotten about him by now and he’d be trying to make it overseas. It was a risky move for Thomas to leave following his junior season, but he was confident enough in his ability.

The differences of the paths that both All-Star point guards took to get to this point in their careers is amazing. With Thomas being one of the most memorable 60th picks in NBA history, it does raise the question: Was drafting Isaiah Thomas 60th overall better value than Kyrie Irving with the top pick?

It’s hard to compare careers because, just like the rest of their basketball careers, they have had very different NBA experiences. Irving was the go-to-guy right away for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was supposed to be the player to lead the Cavaliers back to greatness following LeBron James‘ departure.

On the other hand, Thomas had to prove himself just to make the Kings’ roster as a rookie. Thomas didn’t see action until December, when he saw inconsistent playing time before finally cracking the rotation in the middle of January. In contrary, Irving has started all 309 games he’s appeared in, while Thomas wasn’t even the opening night starter to begin the 2015/16 season.

Even this season, the year Isaiah Thomas became a star in many people’s eyes, and when Kyrie Irving cemented himself as one of the elite point guards in the NBA with his performance in the NBA Finals, they had polar opposite roles. Isaiah Thomas turned into the star Boston was searching for and was given the reigns as the Boston Celtics‘ go-to scorer and playmaker in 2015/16, while Irving was used as a complimentary player to LeBron James.

Despite Thomas making the All-Star team over Irving this past season, there’s no doubting Irving is the superior talent between the two. He’s a bonafide star on another tier than Thomas.

Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports /

Although, despite an underwhelming regular season, Irving averaged a remarkable 25.2 points, 4.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game during Cleveland championship run. He proved to be the elite scorer many believed he had become over the past five seasons. Granted it’s a much smaller sample size than Thomas’ 22.2 points, 6.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game over 82 regular season games, Irving’s stat line is impressive, nonetheless.

Comparing statistics between the two point guards get tricky, though. As previously noted, they have extremely different roles on their respective teams. Irving is a rare situation in which his assists and scoring numbers are deflated due to playing alongside LeBron James. Sure, other point guards play alongside star players and still put up big numbers – Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City, Stephen Curry on the Golden State Warriors. But the other top point guards in this position are still the main ball-handlers on their respective team.

To no fault of Irving, James is simply the better passer and playmaker. Irving is far from a bad passer, and he owns some of the best handles in the game. Therefore, with the unique role Kyrie Irving is in, it’s hard to say the type of numbers he would put up if he were the star of a team.

Prior to James coming back to Cleveland, Irving was scoring more than 20 points per game and reached 6.1 assists per night the season before James returned. With Irving significantly improving over the past two years, you can only wonder what types of numbers he would put up.

With that being said, back in 2011, if NBA General Managers knew how Thomas’ career would end up, there would not have been 58 picks between he and Irving. Thomas may not have the same pure skill that Irving does, but Thomas is still a star-caliber point guard and a player you can build around.

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When looking back at the 2011 NBA Draft, Isaiah Thomas is one of just five All-Stars drafted that year. If there was a re-draft, Thomas would be a sure-fire top-ten pick, with the chance of going in the top-five, depending on team needs.

When it comes down to it, the Cavaliers got a star and one of their centerpieces with the top pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, although, drafting Thomas with the 60th pick was one of the best value picks the Sacramento Kings have ever made. There are few point guards better than Kyrie Irving, but to say he is 58 picks better than Thomas is a stretch.

In fact, if the NBA were to hold a reset draft, where every NBA player is available, there’s a good chance that 58 picks wouldn’t go between Irving and Thomas.

Drafting an All-Star in the second round is rare, and something to be applauded for. It doesn’t happen every year, especially not with the 60th pick. Since Thomas was taken with the final pick, only two of the last four 60th picks have appeared in an NBA game – Robert Sacre was the only one to play in double-digits games last season.

Kyrie Irving was the right pick with the first overall selection in 2011. He was easily the most intriguing prospect in a weak draft, however, Isaiah Thomas’ rise to the top makes him one of the biggest steals in recent memory. There is no denying he’s a top-ten point guard in the NBA, and he’s become an integral part to what the Celtics are trying to accomplish.

Next: Will LeBron James Always Be Too Much For Celtics?

Kyrie Irving is clearly the better point guard but Thomas has exceed all expectations, and looks like a former lottery pick, while Irving is a star but not the superstar Cleveland was hoping for when drafting him.