Response #1 – The John Wall v. Kyrie Irving Debate


Last week I was asked for a ranking of the NBA point guards. Being the die-hard fan I am, I gladly obliged. Me and the fan agreed for the most part on the first four; Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, and James Harden (whom we disagreed on as to whether or not he was, in fact, a point guard.) The fifth player I listed, however, made the two people I was with stop what they were doing and turn their heads at me. When I listed John Wall above Kyrie Irving, I was met with complete disagreement.

There were a lot of things they said to try and qualify Kyrie’s apparent status as the relative alpha player, but none of them were legitimate enough reasons to change my mind. “Kyrie is a better shooter” was one of these things said, and while that is true, that doesn’t make him anything more than a better shooter. Wall’s game has never been based on his ability to shoot from the perimeter, and I would argue that the fact that Wall is now neck and neck with Irving in points per game, it only makes Wall look like that much better of a scorer, because he can get his points more creatively and consistently than Irving can when Irving’s three point shot isn’t there during a cold game.

CBS Sports
CBS Sports

Another reply I got was that Kyrie has the edge in terms of playoff performance, but that advantage for Kyrie is not only in a grey area, but it can be argued the other way as well. For one, Kyrie Irving has never been to the playoffs as the best player on his team. In fact, in the three years before LeBron got to Cleveland, Kyrie’s Cavaliers were a combined 78-152 – they didn’t even come close to playoff contention. The team Irving led as a rookie was ridiculously poor in talent, but those teams in the next two years could have been led to greater success by a John Wall level player. They featured notable players who have been starters for playoff teams like C.J. Miles, Andrew Bynum, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, Tyler Zeller, Marreese Speights, Shaun Livingston, Dion Waiters, Jarrett Jack, Matthew Dellavedova, Luol Deng, and Spencer Hawes.

Whereas Kyrie failed with those deep Cavalier teams, Wall thrived with his team, and carried them to the playoffs. Wall took players who were considered to be washed up, and restored some relevance in them. 37 year old Andre Miller was playing great basketball backing up and playing alongside John Wall; he never had a higher offensive rating than the 113 he had in that last part of the 2014 season in his entire 17 year career. Another guy Wall helped was Martell Webster. The 6th overall pick in 2005, Webster was considered a bust in Portland, and he played for a poor Timberwolves team before joining Washington, but his perimeter shooting became an asset that helped the Wizards make the playoffs.

USA Today / Bleacher Report
USA Today / Bleacher Report

Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat, Nene, Rasual Butler, Kris Humphries, Drew Gooden – these were all players who had fallen out of rotations or relevance on other teams, but they all played a major role on a playoff bound Washington team that upset favored Bulls and Raptors teams in 2014 and 2015.

Back in 2014-15, when Cleveland was playing Golden State, Kyrie Irving got hurt. Nobody could have predicted what happened next: Cleveland won the next two games behind the defensive play of back-up point guard Matthew Dellavedova. While Dellavedova should absolutely be credited for his grit, the fact of the matter is Kyrie Irving is not a great defender, and he certainly isn’t a better defender than a John Wall. In fact, the numbers suggest that Wall is nearly twice as good of a defender as Irving:

John Wall vs. Kyrie Irving DWS
Season Wall Irving
2011-12 1.9 0.6
2012-13 2.2 1.1
2013-14 4.0 2.1
2014-15 4.2 2.0
2015-16 3.5 1.7
2016-17 2.0 1.2

Now, Kyrie isn’t cashing out checks from his 20 million dollar annual salary for his defense, but neither is Wall. Wall makes his money’s worth on both ends of the ball, and the overall team impact he creates – an impact Irving can’t claim he makes himself. Here is their impact when they are on vs. off the court – per 100 possessions:

Wall vs. Irving On/Off (per 100 poss.)
Season Wall Irving
2011-12 -3.2 +4.7
2012-13 +6.8 +1
2013-14 +7.5 -4.3
2014-15 +12.3 +9.2
2015-16 +4.8 -0.2
2016-17 +11.9 +8.3
Career +5.0 +2.9

Wall clearly has a bigger impact on his team’s success than Irving, and last year the Cavaliers outscored their opponents by more points when Irving was off the court. Without Irving, the Cavaliers would still be able to be competitive, they would still likely win at least 50 games being led by LeBron and Kevin Love, and they would still be the favorites to make it to the NBA Finals. Take John Wall off the Wizards, now the situation in Washington goes from the Wizards being a playoff level team, when healthy, to one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference. Who would even lead this team, Bradley Beal? Without Wall, the Wizards are a 12 or 13 seed in the East in the best case scenario.

If comparing their careers, Wall has the proven advantage, but even if we compare them right now, Wall has the advantage as well. Wall outperforms Irving by nearly every major metric aside from raw scoring average, which Wall more than compensates for by producing nearly twice Irving’s assists, and thusly creating more points than Irving overall since their scoring averages only differ by 1.5 points. Here are some of these metrics:

Wall vs. Irving
2016-17 Wall Irving
PPG 22.9 24.4
APG 10.3 5.7
RPG 4.5 3.4
SPG 2.2 1.2
BPG 0.5 0.2
Win Shares 5.3 5.2
PER 23.5 22.1
Box +/- +4.6 2.9

Kyrie Irving is a great player, and there is no doubt in my mind that I would rather have Irving attempt a step-back three pointer to beat Golden State in Game 7 of the NBA Finals with 54 seconds left in the game. For the first 47 minutes of the game, for the season, and for their entire careers thus far, however, Wall is the better option, and has been the better player.

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