Kyrie Irving will accept his Rookie of the Year award Tuesday morning at Cleveland Clinic Courts, the Cavaliers' practice facility in Independence. Irving was the expected winner since the start of the season, now the only remaining question is whether or not his selection will be unanimous.
Only three players have ever been unanimous choices for Rookie of the Year -- the Clippers' Blake Griffin last year, San Antonio's David Robinson in 1990 and Houston's Ralph Sampson in 1984. New Orleans' Chris Paul missed by one vote in 2006.
Irving will become the second player in Cavs history to be named Rookie of the Year, joining LeBron James, who received 78 of 118 first-place votes in 2003. Denver's Carmelo Anthony took the other 40 first-place votes. after Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio went down with a season-ending knee injury, there wasn't anyone left to challenge Irving for the throne.
Irving led all rookies, and his team in scoring (18.5 points) and was second among rookies with 5.4 assists. That made him one of six rookies to average at least 18 points and 5 assists during his rookie season, joining a short list that includes Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. He also ranked first or second among qualifying rookies in field goal percentage, free-throw percentage and 3-point percentage.
The Cavaliers drafted Irving first overall last summer and coach Byron Scott inserted him into the starting lineup for the first game, an impressive feat considering Irving missed summer league and a full NBA training camp because of the lockout. He started the entire season, except for the 15 games he missed to illness and injuries.
"The progression of Kyrie from Game 1 to Game 50 probably exceeded everyone's expectations," Scott said. "I don't think anyone expected him to do what he did this season."
Irving quickly established himself as a fearless closer, hitting game-winning shots in Boston and Denver in the final seconds and sinking a pair of free throws to beat the Sacramento Kings at home.
Irving ranked among the leaders in fourth-quarter scoring becaues of performances like his game against the New Jersey Nets on Jan. 27, when he scored 21 points in the fourth quarter (17 in the final three minutes) en route to a career-high 32 points.
Irving was a relative unknown most of the season, perhaps because of the lockout or the fact he played just 11 games in college because of a toe injury. He didn't really become a national name until the All-Star break, when he scored 34 points and made all eight of his 3-point attempts in the Rising Stars game between rookies and second-year players.
Irving said he didn't notice teams really keying on him defensively until the final month of the season. He missed a bulk of that time with a sprained right shoulder, which is the only thing that kept him from sweeping the league's Rookie of the Month awards in the Eastern Conference.
"For every night now for the rest of my career, it's going to be night after night where I have to find a way to get my teammates involved and score and win the game," Irving said. "That's been one of my biggest growing pains, getting used to defenses keying on me all the time."