Kyrie Irving has been ranked the 25th best player in the NBA by Sports Illustrated, down from 23rd last year. Before I jump into this, here's what they had to say about this ranking:
This might feel low for Irving, 24, whose scintillating play as LeBron’s sidekick down the stretch of the Finals was crucial in ending Cleveland’s championship drought. Irving’s defenders will rightfully argue that his advanced scoring ability, remarkable creativity, and fearlessness in pressure situations are unmatched by many of the names above him on this list. But Irving (19.6 PPG, 4.7 APG, 3 RPG) nevertheless falls short in a few meaningful ways that keep him from higher placement among his star colleagues. Most obviously, there’s the matter of his defensive impact and attentiveness, which trail far behind the elite players at his position. Past that, there are reasonable questions as to how well his game would transfer to a team that isn’t captained by James: Irving’s shortcomings as an offense-initiator were on full display in Cleveland before James’s 2014 return, and they popped up again at the Rio Olympics, even when he was surrounded by talent on all sides. There’s also the matter of his health and durability: Irving has missed 22% of his team’s games during his five-year career, and he’s most effective when he’s playing at breakneck speed, even if that means courting risk. While James and the Cavaliers have done a masterful job constructing a role for Irving and while he deserves full credit for rising to the occasion during the playoffs, there’s a nagging sense that the three-time All-Star would flounder a bit if asked to lead his own show.
The "what did he do on his own" angle always causes me a little grief. He didn't make the playoffs in his first three years, similar to John Wall. Like Wall, Irving closed out his third season with a .500 record. For Wall that record came after the All Star break, for Irving after the Andrew Bynum trade. You need teammates to win, and Dion Waiters isn't exactly the perfect Robin for a playoff team.
The defensive criticisms are fair, but also can be attributed to Damian Lillard who was ranked 21st. But when you factor in Lillard being a number one option, I can see that being a tie-breaker in a ranking like this.
Ultimately the fact that Kyle Lowry (14???), John Wall (17), Damian Lillard (21) and Irving (25) are ranked so far apart feels strange. Their impact on the game is fairly similar, and a person's choice usually comes down to preference. Each has their warts, for Irving and Lillard it comes with defense. For Wall, shooting and running an above average offense, for Lowry it's breaking down over the course of a season and playoff struggles.
Rankings don't change the impact that Irving had on the Cavs last season, nor will it change the player he becomes in the future. Playing alongside LeBron James is both a blessing and a curse, as his teammates often have their individual abilities marginalized or attributed to his presence. Irving had a down year last year coming off knee surgery, and if that's something that should be held against him, so be it. The 24 year old has cemented himself in Cleveland history with an iconic shot that came in a historic Finals performance. There are legitimate reasons to prefer any of the point guards listed above, but to suggest the gap is that large feels off.