There is no doubt in my mind that the point guard position in the NBA has emerged as the deepest and most competitive position in the league. At this point, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find someone that disagrees with that notion. The league is filled with capable guys to lead their teams on to the court. For example, a guy like Ty Lawson, who is an incredibly good player, probably barely cracks my top-15 point guards. That’s not a slight against Lawson, but a compliment to the fifteen guys I would put ahead of him. To go along with this, the point guard can be divided up into more proven guys, like Chris Paul, and your up-and-comers, like the two guys I am about to get into.
Now, many may disagree with that notion, and say that Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving have already arrived, but for me, I need each to prove more to me for completely different reasons. For Curry, I need to know that the injury bug is behind him, and he can be a durable player in this league, and not be constantly hobbled. On the other hand, Irving needs to win; the ability is there obviously, but it is easy to put up numbers on bad teams. With a capable supporting cast around him, it is crucial for Irving’s progression as a player that he helps the Cavs contend for a playoff spot.
So, with each having something to prove, lets determine who will be the better player moving forward. Disclaimer: You cannot go wrong with either guy. I wrote this intro BEFORE deciding, because its that close. So, if I choose Kyrie, that doesn’t mean Steph Curry sucks, or vice versa.
Photo Credit: Cavstheblog.com
In my point guards, I look for two essential factors: Leadership, and ability to make teammates better. Basically, all you need to know is that Jason Kidd is my favorite player of all-time, so that is the kind of point guard I prefer. Neither Curry not Irving really fit the “Kidd” mold, as each is more of a scoring point guard. However, for Irving, I am not sure if the jury is out just yet.
In Curry’s case, he was surrounded last year by capable scorers, like Splash Brothers comrade Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes. Despite that, Curry still carried the scoring load by not only leading the team in scoring at 22.9, but also in field goals attempted at 17.8. This isn’t a problem, since, you know, Steph can put the ball in the bucket, but having your point guard take three more shots a game than any other player on your team makes him a legitimate “score-first” point guard.
Irving, who was surrounded by a supporting cast that may have been allergic to the basket, found himself in a position of necessity to shoot. Aside from back-court mate Dion Waiters, who has the Monta Ellis patented “if you pass me the ball, there is a 99.9% chance you aren’t getting it back” philosophy to his game, Irving found himself surrounded by guys you wouldn’t have much confidence in offensively. Still, Irving, like Curry, dominated both the scoring (22.5) and shots for his team (18.1, Waiters was second at 13.4).
While the evidence points to Irving also being a “score-first” point guard, I think the lack of a legitimate supporting cast still leaves it up for debate. I will be curious how those two numbers fare out this season, especially if Andrew Bynum becomes a legitimate post-presence on this team. In my opinion, Bynum’s shots breakdown should essentially come from Marreese Speights, who he is replacing on the roster (8.6 FGA), Anderson Verejao, who attempted 11.6 shots per game out of necessity, and from Irving’s total. At the end of the season, I would like to see Irving either shorten the gap between he and the other shot takers, or give up first place altogether, and let guys like Bynum and newly acquired Jarrett Jack get some shots up (well, Jack is jacking shots, pardon the pun, regardless of whether Kyrie lets him or not).
Statistically, last season Irving and Curry were mirror-images of one another, matching each other in scoring (Curry 22.9, Irving 22.5), rebounding (Curry 4.0, Irving 3.7), assists (Curry 6.9, Irving 5.9), FG% (Curry 45.2, Irving 45.1), steals (Curry 1.6, Irving 1.5). The only edge I saw was obviously Curry in three-point shooting (his specialty), as he shot 45.3% from long-range, compared to Irving’s 39.1%.
Now, the elephant in the room has to be this: Irving has only played two years in the league, compared to Curry’s four. Therefore, I simply went and compared Irving’s first two seasons to Curry’s, and the result was not much different statistically. The only noticeable difference in Curry’s numbers between his sophomore season and now was the improvement in three-point shooting, as he only made roughly two three pointers a game at a 43% clip, compared to his now three and half per game at a 45% clip.
The only true advantage I see for Irving is how he will benefit from better surroundings. You can argue that Curry may have peaked, and that he has reached his plateau as an NBA player. On the other hand, Irving still has plenty of room to improve, especially when you factor in how injuries have impacted his overall performance on the floor. Simply, it is hard to get a rhythm midseason when you are missing time due to nagging injuries. The simple eye test tells you that Kyrie Irving is a bad man, and he is going to blossom into one of the better players this league has to offer if he can stay on the floor.
When I started writing this piece, I assumed that there was one glaring difference between the two, and that was durability. Curry’s shaky ankles have been well-documented throughout his short NBA career, and I actually thought that would be the deciding factor, since statistics are good and all, but they only really matter if…you know… you are on the court.
However, I was surprised to find out that Curry has played in at least 74 games in three of his four NBA seasons, and only missed a significant amount of time in the lockout shortened 2011-2012 season, where he played 26 of 66 games. Irving, who has only been in the league for two years, has already missed 38 of his 148 eligible games (roughly 25%), compared to Curry who has missed 54 of his 312 eligible games (17%). What this also tells me is that Curry has a toughness to him, since the ankle injuries aren’t a myth, but an injury he continues to play through. Instead of the durability factor coming into Irving’s favor, it can either be seen as a victory of Curry, or a wash.
Advantage: Curry (I am just as surprised as you are)
This is the curveball. It is hard to assess Curry’s leadership skills, since he has been blessed with a vocal coach, Mark Jackson, who does a great job leading his team. Curry also had other respected veterans on his team, especially the now departed Jarrett Jack, who is now on Irving’s Cavs (to throw another monkey wrench into this conversation.) I don’t quite know if I would have considered the 2012-2013 Golden State Warriors “Steph Curry’s Team.” When I think of the leaders on that team, guys like Jackson, Jack, and even David Lee come to mind before I think of Steph Curry. On the court, his presence is undeniable, especially when he gets rolling and hitting 3′s. However, I don’t know how many times I saw Curry making his teammates better. Part of being a great point guard is knowing when your teammates need the ball, and when to get your own shot going.
As a Net fan, that has always been the appeal of Deron Williams to me (you know, when he’s not limping, or pouting, or both.) Williams has the ability to channel different parts of his game, becoming a distributor when needed, but also having the ability to handle the scoring load if his team is struggling. Curry’s game is one-dimensional in that sense. We all know he can score, but can he get David Lee easy buckets when he’s 1-10 from the floor and really needs a confidence boost? That is the evolution Curry needs to make from a leadership perspective. We all know he can score with the best of them, but that is not the only dimension of being a point guard.
On the other hand, Irving was basically handed the keys to the franchise immediately, and never looked back. Honestly, I was one of the few people that thought Irving had incredible bust potential as the first pick. We now know that I am an idiot for having such thoughts. I have enjoyed watching Kyrie make me look stupider and stupider night-in and night-out. I get it, Kyrie, you got game. There is little doubt that the Cavs are considered Kyrie’s team, and it shows in final possessions. Again, this can be contributed to the lack of help, but in a last-shot situation for the Cavs, you immediately assume Kyrie is handling the ball, and will make the shot.
The numbers in clutch situations seriously favor Irving over Curry. I classified clutch situations as 4th quarter, under three minutes remaining, and a game that was within five points. In these instances last season, Irving shot 46.5% from the floor, compared to Curry’s surprisingly low 23.8%. It seems that Curry relies too much on his three point shooting in these situations, shooting an abysmal 3-21, a 14% clip, compared to his aforementioned 45% average overall. Even if only a slight bump statistically, it is always a good sign when your “clutch” numbers are either superior or fairly equal to your overall average, and Irving passes that test. Irving’s advantage comes from within two-point range, where he shot a very impressive 57.1% in clutch situations.
In these clutch situations, it seems fairly clear that Irving holds the advantage between the two.
Overall, this comparison went nothing like I imagined it would. I went into it thinking that Irving was probably the slightly better player, but the numbers really lean towards Curry, though it is merely a slight advantage. From the pure eye test, it seems to me that Irving is the better player, and though has had injuries, his injuries seem more fluky than anything else, as opposed to a potential chronic ankle issue with Curry.
Still, I, surprisingly to myself, have to go with Stephen Curry over Kyrie Irving.
(Give me both guys eight days a week though. Both may be top-five PG’s by this time next year. Look out Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook, the young bucks want your spot.)
By: Frank Santos- Sports-Kings Co-Founder
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