After ranking the NBA’s Top 10 point guards (plus honorable mentions on Monday), RDE co-editor Chris Manning is back to compare Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving to the other top point guards in the NBA. He will compare Irving to Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose. First up is Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers star who was atop both Manning and site blogger Trevor Magnotti’s rankings.
Chris Paul is damn near a perfect point guard. He is well above average on both offense and defense, stays healthy and – most importantly – leads his team. He is known around the league to be an A-type, Kobe Bryant-type leader in the Los Angeles Clippers locker room. Simply put, the Wake Forest product is the alpha dog of his team.
Kyrie Irving couldn’t be more different. While he’s younger, more dynamic and a better pure scorer, he hasn’t quite become a definite grizzled team leader like Paul. Still, the two are both consensus Top-5 point guards – no small feat considering how deep the position is.
And in a sense, we could see a changing of the guard between the two in the next few years. Irving is viewed as a Kendrick Lamar-type, a player who is very good right now, but someone people think not only will be around for a while, but also get better in time. That would make Paul more like Nas; someone who has been around a while and has aged like a fine wine – and may have some more great time ahead of him.
That being said, let’s take a look at how Irving and Paul compare on offense, defense and what x-factors each man brings to the table.
In terms of scoring, I would take Irving over Paul. Time and time again, he’s shown his ability to score in bunches – especially late in close games. However, these shot charts also indicate that Paul may be a better overall shooter than Irving.
For their career, Paul (at 47.3 percent) shoots at a higher clip from the field than Irving (at 45.9 percent). From behind the arc, Irving has the advantage (39.4 percent versus 35.6 percent). It should be also noted that Irving shoots at a higher clip as well (16.5 shots per game versus 13.8 shots per game).
Paul’s biggest advantage over Irving is mainly due to how they play; Paul is and always will be a more traditional point guard, while Irving is a score-first guard. Assist-wise, Paul has averaged 9.8 assists, while Irving comes in at 5.7 assists per game. The Cavaliers star also commits almost a full turnover per game more (3.2 per game versus 2.4 per game for his Clippers contemporary). While some of that may be due to Paul’s experience, he has never once in his NBA career averaged as many turnovers per game as Irving is averaging for his career. That gives him a leg up on Irving.
It’s neck and neck here, but due to his low turnover rate and shooting percentage, the advantage goes to Paul.
The defensive side of the ball is where Paul has a large advantage over Irving. When you think of elite defenders at point guard, if Paul isn’t the first name that pops into your mind, he has to be the second. He holds several NBA records in the steals department and is a five-time All-Defensive team member (three times as a first-team member, two times as a second-team member). Irving, as any sensible Cavaliers fan can tell you, is pretty horrible on defense. There’s a reason why, in certain situations, former coach Byron Scott would use Alonzo Gee to defend a team’s point guards.
The numbers back this up. Irving, for his career, averages a paltry 1.3 steals . On the other hand you have who Paul averages 2.4. For those that keep track or are into math, that’s a difference of 1.1. With steals being a low number statistic, that’s a large gap.
Thus, the defensive side of the ball is very easy to chalk up. Irving is still young and he’ll likely improve (especially under Mike Brown), but Paul is an elite defender levels above Irving on that side of the ball. Advantage: Paul, by a landslide.
Irving’s X-Factors are much more exciting (and worrisome) than Paul’s. On one hand, you have his already battled tested ability in the clutch. On the other side, you have his injury history. I don’t believe it to be as bad as some have made it out to be (as I think many of his injuries have been flukes), but it’s still worth noting that he hasn’t played a full season of basketball since high school. It should go without saying that Irving can never be the star many (including me) think he will be if cannot stay on the court.
As for Paul, his leadership is something few NBA players can match. He is the undisputed boss of a Clippers locker room that has been full of young talent. Even though he probably does clash with teammates like Blake Griffin due to seriousness, he undoubtedly commands respect within that locker room. His status as a star player only makes him more reputable as a leader.
However, I give the advantage to Irving here. Headed into his third year, he’s starting to come into his own as a team leader in his own right and his one-on-on, clutch ability is above Paul’s already, and it’s a skill that is hard to replicate. Advantage Irving.
Right now, if I was going to build a one-year, title-chasing dream team and could select any player in the league to be my point guard, I would pick Paul. He sets the tone, can truly do it all and is unselfish enough to know when to pass to a teammate for a better shot. He’s the best right now, but it’s close. Irving’s nipping on his heels and a huge season from him offensively – plus marked improvement on defensive – could make Irving the better player by season’s end.