Cavs and Wizards fans have had a fun debate the last few years: which team's franchise point guard is the better player? John Wall was the first overall selection by the Washington Wizards in the summer of 2010, and the Cavs made Kyrie Irving the first pick a year later. Wall got off to a slow start before exploding last season, leading the Wizards to the second round of the playoffs. Irving's career got off to a tremendous start before a difficult third season.
This year, both have been very good. John Wall started the All-Star game for the East, and Kyrie Irving came off the bench. Last year, the roles were reversed. Both will help lead their teams into the playoffs. They play different styles, of course, which makes the debate even more fun. Wall sets up his teammates like a maestro on the offensive end, and hounds opposing point guards with tenacity and elite athleticism. Kyrie Irving scores at a level matched by maybe three or four players in the whole league.
So who is better? I've argued for Irving the last few years. Due to a variety of factors that I'll outline below, I've changed my tune. It's inescapable, John Wall is the better player.
The game may be about buckets, but the point guard position is about facilitating them
Cavs fans like to have it both ways with Irving. Tell them that Kyrie isn't a pure point guard and all hell breaks loose. Point out his low assist totals and assist rates and they'll tell you that he's just playing his role off of LeBron James. So which is it? Which faulty excuse are you going to buy? How about you just buy stock in John Wall.
How about some cold, hard facts. Irving's assist rate has gone down every single season he's been in the Association. This season it's a paltry 24.5%. John Wall, on the other hand, is assisting over 45% of his teammates field goals when he's on the court. That's a general.
He's kept up the insane numbers despite losing one of his favorite targets Trevor Ariza. Martell Webster's injury troubles have limited his availability all year. Brad Beal's foot issues haven't gone away. Paul Pierce no longer needs a wheelchair for playoff injuries, but for general use in his geriatric condition. Nene has been on a minutes restriction at various points in the year. Randy Wittman picks a lucky fan from the crowd each night to replace Marcin Gortat for fourth quarters.
John Wall. Does. Not. Care. He shows up every night, willing his team to win. And oh, by the way, he has a career high true shooting rate. Take a look at his shot chart. He's average nearly everywhere. Defenses have to account for his scoring.
But really, the only shot chart that would matter is the one based on his assists. The Wizards fans can count on points from 100% of Wall's assists, and he's dropping nearly ten of those per game. Cavs fans like to cling to new age SportsVU data that tells them Irving passes quite a bit per game. Given the lack of return on the investment, could Kyrie be wasting possessions with his passing as well as his over-dribbling? It's worth considering.
Defense is half the game
My goidness its embarrassing trying to see kyrie irving play defense.— EDDO (@eddostarr305) December 25, 2014
I don't know what's been more embarrassing at times, Kyrie's defense or Cavs' fans gushing at the marginal improvement we've seen from him on that end this year. The Wizards have survived their injuries and maintained one of the best defenses in the league. As Irving likes to say, the point guard is the head of the snake. John Wall is an expert at cutting that head off, taking it the other way, and setting up teammates for confidence boosting easy baskets. I guess it's nice to hear Irving taking that side of the ball seriously.
Really, it's not all Irving's fault. John Wall is stronger physically than Irving while giving up nothing in the agility department. It's not a surprise Wall defends better. Give Irving credit for improving. Give Wall credit for being elite on that end.
Chris Paul. Mike Conley. John Wall.
D.J. Augustin. Isaiah Thomas. Kyrie Irving.
But really, Happy April Fool's Day.
Irving has the higher Player Efficiency Rating, a true shooting rate five points higher than Wall, and has helped LeBron James lead one of the best offenses over the last few months that the NBA has ever seen. In a league that values three point shooting, Irving can make them and John Wall can sometimes make them but usually just dribbles in to shoot midrange jumpers at an inefficient rate.
Irving is 18 months younger than Wall. Irving has a lower assist rate, yes, but also turns the ball over on less than 12% of his possessions. Wall is north of 18%. John Wall has never led an offense that is better than league average, nor has he completed a season with an average true shooting rate. Irving helps lead an offense that has scored at a historic rate while he's been on the court. It's not just LeBron James, who has been incredibly more efficient with Irving on the court than without. James' true shooting rate jumps by over six points when he shares the court with Irving.
John Wall's usage rate has ticked down, even as his team has needed his scoring and distribution even more. You'd think he would take on more of the load, but perhaps for him to maintain this level of efficiency this is what he can do. Irving's usage rate is also down; he shares the court with high usage players like LeBron James, J.R. Smith and Kevin Love and has succeeded with them.
Wall will enter his age 25 season with a career three point shooting percentage of around 30.6%. Irving's at 38.7%. Perhaps if the Wizards get Wall another star he can become a Dwyane Wade level cutter off the ball. In the meantime, Irving gets the edge in terms of skillsets that are easy to build around. Shooting is valuable nowadays. Irving brings a ton to the table offensively, and he doesn't turn the ball over (and take anything off of it).
Give me Irving.