There’s been lots of debate about who the better player is: John Wall or Kyrie Irving? They were both number 1 overall picks, picked in back to back years after just one year in college, so the comparisons are inevitable. Irving will likely get voted to the NBA All-Star game via the fans, while John Wall will have to get the coaches vote. Both players are elite guards in their conference, but the numbers do separate the two. Let’s break it down into three categories: Offense, defense and intangibles.
Wall scores 19.6 ppg on 41.5% shooting, 32.1% 3 point shooting, and 84.1% on free throws. Irving scores 21.7 ppg on 42.9% shooting, 36.3% 3 point shooting, and 82.7% on free throws. However, there is more to the story than these numbers. Wall converts 58% of his shots at the rim, while Irving converts just 50% of these, while averaging about one more shot at the rim per game than Wall. Wall is also more adept at getting contact, averaging 5.4 free throw attempts to Irving’s 4.8. Thus, Wall is better at scoring at the two highest percentage shots, layups and free throws. However, Irving is clearly the better outside shooter, despite Wall’s improving jumper. They both shoot 36% on long two point jumpers, but Wall settles for 2.23 more long two’s a game than Irving, an inefficient shot. Combined with the fact that Irving shoots 4% better from 3 point range and attempts about one more 3 pointer a game, it is clear that he has stronger outside shooting and shot selection compared to Wall. Another thing to consider is Wall’s impact in transition. He is a one man fast break with his blazing speed, and not to downplay this impact, but these transition buckets tend to inflate his percentage at the rim. Scoring in transition is Wall’s best weapon, while Irving on the other hand has a vast array of scoring methods. Irving is better at scoring in the halfcourt, despite shouldering the scoring burden on a mostly offensively challenged Cavaliers team. I’d give Irving the slight edge here.
As passers, Wall is far more polished than Irving. He averages 8.6 assists to 6.1 for Irving. Taking a closer look at the advance passing stats, if we take a look at Points Created by a Player’s Assists per 48 minutes, Wall is at 26.4 while Irving is at just 19.0. Out of the top 25 players in assists per game, Irving’s 19.0 ranks 24th.This shows Wall is better at creating 3-point looks for his teammates, although one must take into consideration Wall’s superior 3-point shooting teammates. Another measure to look at passing and commanding an effective offense are secondary, or hockey assists. Wall averages 1.9 of these per game, good for 3rd in the league, while Irving averages just .6, not even making the top 25. However, Irving takes better care of the ball, averaging 2.8 turnovers per game whereas Wall averages 3.5 turnovers per game. Despite this, Wall has the clear advantage when it comes to passing.
Defensively, Wall is way ahead of Irving. He comes in at 2.03 steals per game, good for fourth in the league, compared to Irving’s 1.2. Wall has been a better pickpocket recently, as his career average is 1.6 steals per game, which, if his career ended today, would put him at 33rd best all time. Wall is for the most part a very engaged defender, an effective double team player, and is capable of using his length to produce highlight worthy blocks almost every game it seems. Irving on the other hand has the propensity to take plays off and is a major part of the reason for an underachieving Cavalier defense and team.
Miscellaneous and Intangibles:
According to 82games.com, when Wall is on the court, the Wizards score 105.3 points per 100 possessions. When Wall is off, scoring drops to 98 points per 100 possessions. Conversely, measuring Irving’s impact, the offense goes from 106.9 to 104 when he takes a break. Sure, Jarrett Jack is one of the better backup point guards in the NBA, but Wall’s understanding of the offense cannot be understated. It is no surprise that the bench falters without Wall. Moreover, Wall has asserted himself as a leader that his teammates respect and excel with, whereas Irving is still learning how to lead a team. Granted, Wall is a year older, but he is truly looked up to on the Wizards by veterans such as Nene and Gortat, while Irving has had several reported issues with Dion Waiters and Andrew Bynum, who has since been traded and waived. It will be interesting to see how he meshes with a well respected veteran in Luol Deng. Because of Wall’s strength in the drive and kick game, Webster is one the best 3 point shooters in the league at about 41%, and Ariza is at a career high of 39% from 3 point range.
At this stage of their careers, Wall probably gets the slight edge over Irving. His offense, defense, and leadership abilities are getting better every year, and his presence makes everyone on the Washington’s roster better. Irving has the game winners, the razzle dazzle moves, and the famous Uncle Drew commercials, but the reality is that Wall has the Wizards in playoff mode, while Irving and the Cavaliers have faltered this year, despite having high expectations.
Both Wall and Irving possess the talent to make a great impact in the future. At this point, Wall is a more complete player than Irving, but I’m sure the comparisons will continue for the rest of their careers.