- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 15, 2012

INDEPENDENCE, OHIO (AP) - Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving is the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, winning the award with the same ease as he dribbled past defenders this season.

Irving received 117 of 120 possible first-place votes from a nationwide media panel of 120 writers and broadcasters. Irving finished with 592 points, way ahead of Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio (170) and Denver’s Kenneth Faried (129), who was third.

Faried, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and New York’s Iman Shumpert received the other first-place votes, denying Irving’s bid to become the fourth player to win the award unanimously.

The 20-year-old is the second Cleveland player to win the award, joining LeBron James in 2004.

Irving’s award was expected. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when, he would get it.

The No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft, he was clearly the league’s top first-year player, leading all rookies _ and the Cavs _ in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He also led all rookies in field-goal percentage (46.8), was second in assists (5.4) and became one of just six rookies in league history to average at least 18 points and five assists.

However, it was the other elements of his game _ a nasty crossover dribble, a fearless desire to get to the basket, and a clutch, cold-blooded instinct in the fourth quarter that separated him from the others.

Irving, who played only 11 games at Duke before turning pro, regularly took over games down the stretch for the Cavaliers. He kept them competitive and in the playoff race until mid-March when the team’s front office decided to build for the future by trading his backup, guard Ramon Sessions, to the Los Angeles Lakers for a first-round draft pick.

Once Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio went down with a season-ending knee injury, Irving became the runaway favorite to win rookie of the year honors.

And beyond his impressive statistics, Irving brought hope to the Cavaliers and Cleveland fans, who have spent the past two seasons trying to move past James leaving as a free agent before he could bring them their first league title.

Irving appears to be the major piece the Cavs can build around, and they plan to get him some help next month with three of the top 34 picks in the NBA draft. The Cavs got lucky and won the draft lottery a year ago, paving the way for them to select Irving.

He was clearly the perfect choice.

Despite having a limited training camp because of the labor lockout, Irving started the opener for coach Byron Scott, who has formed a strong bond with his young star. He believes Irving has just scratched the surface of his potential.

“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.”

Although it was assumed Irving would start the season opener, Scott didn’t inform him until the day of the game so as not to pamper the playmaker. But Irving had earned the job and it didn’t take him long to show the Cavs and the rest of the NBA that stardom would be in his future.

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