With Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo both out, Cleveland's Kyrie Irving and Washington's John Wall are the two best point guards left standing in the conference. So, the question presents itself: Who's better?
Both players were taken No. 1 overall in back-to-back drafts by teams that were looking to build around them. Wall has been around for one more year than Irving, but they have both experienced success. Wall was recently rewarded for his efforts, and there's no doubt that Kyrie's paycheck will come when his rookie deal is up.
The facts are that Irving is 21 years old, 6 feet 2 inches, 180 pounds, and currently in his third season. Wall is 6-4, 196 pounds, and in his fourth season after dealing with an injury during the start of his third. Both come from basketball factories in Duke and Kentucky. After returning from injury last year, Wall played the best basketball of his NBA career for 49 games in the 2012-2013 season. Irving was an All-Star last year and took home the three-point shooting competition trophy.
To start off with the most recent and easily accessible comparisons, the two have faced off twice this season, and Irving got the best of Wall both times, although the teams split wins in the games. In their Nov. 16 matchup, a Cavs win, Irving finished with 41 points on 14-28 shooting from the field, five assists, and two steals; Wall had nine points on 3-13 shooting from the field, 12 assists, and one steal.
Obviously, the 32-point scoring differential jumps off the page in Kyrie's favor. But Wall did have seven more assists than Irving, which helps his point total if you take the buckets he set up into account, but Irving still outplayed him.
In their Nov. 20 duel, Irving had 28 points on a 9-14 shooting performance from the field, six assists, and one steal. Wall had 15 points from a 6-16 shooting performance, 10 assists, and four steals in a Wizards win.
So, in both games, Wall had a more traditional point guard type of box score with double-digit assists. However, in that second game, Irving 13 more points than Wall while taking two less shots.
Many think that the Duke product looks for his own shot too frequently and doesn't dish the rock as much as he should. And that's a valid claim, but even though the Wizards have been dismal during his career, Wall has had better weapons around him than Irving has had in his young career.
Wall has been surrounded by the likes of Martell Webster, Bradley Beal, and Trevor Ariza, and while that's no All-Star lineup, it is better than what Irving has had. Kyrie has had to work with the likes of sub-par shooters like Alonzo Gee and Dion Waiters. Tristan Thompson is a solid forward, but he has yet to grasp the concept of spacing the floor for Irving. And it's not easy to run pick-and-pops with Tyler Zeller and Luke Walton.
It's like comparing a pair of rundown Camrys and Civics, but Wall's crew gets the nod. Also, Wall's career turnover ratio is high than Irving's, even though the Washington leader brought his mistakes down last year.
Wall played the best basketball of his NBA career after returning from injury last year. In 49 games, he averaged 18.5 points per game, 9.2 assists, and 2.3 assists. That's very good, and it's why he got paid so handsomely. Last year, Kyrie played 10 more games than Wall and averaged 22.5 points, 5.9 assists, and 1.5 steals per game.
When it boils down to it, Irving is statistically a better mid-range shooter, free-throw shooter, and three-point shooter. Wall is more explosive at the rim, but Irving has no trouble getting to the rack. Turnovers have been an Achilles heal for Irving, but Wall has a worse rate. Irving has shown the oft-debated "clutch gene" more than Wall has. And, as highlighted earlier, Wall's better assist rate can be attributed to his surroundings, although one could argue that he is a better passer than Irving, regardless.
Irving finally got some nice pieces around him during this offseason, but he has struggled with them. It appears as if he has had to seriously adjust to having teammates that legitimately deserve the ball.
This is all my own opinion, but I challenge anyone to argue that Wall has even came close to Kyrie's production level in his career, save for those 49 games last season. But even during that span, Irving outplayed him. I can envision an argument that Wall is better on the fast break, but in a playoff-type halfcourt game, Irving is the obvious choice.
This will be a great matchup to watch throughout the young floor generals' careers. Wall is two years older than Irving, but their career paths are eerily similar. The biggest question that looms is if Irving will sign a second deal with the team that drafted him, like Wall did. And if he doesn't, Cleveland can kiss those "come home LeBron" rumors goodbye. It also doesn't help that LeBron's wife just opened a juice bar in Miami.
But back to the point, as long as Rose and Rondo are out, these two are the cream of the crop in the East, even if the conference has gone sour.
Alex Marcheschi is a senior at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University who regularly watches the Cavs on FSN Ohio.
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- Kyrie Irving