After ranking the NBA’s Top 10 point guards (plus honorable mentions on Monday), RDE co-editor Chris Manning is back to compare Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving to the other top point guards in the NBA. He will compare Irving to Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose. Second up is Westbrook, the Thunder star who at 24, is already one of the best players in the league.
Behind Chris Paul is where the point guard rankings get a little muddled. In the top five is where the most intrigued debates occurs and that’s between Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving and Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook. The 21-year-old Irving is the unquestioned star on his team, while the 24-year old Westbrook shares the load with Kevin Durant.
The only similarity that these two players share is that they are both very young, very talented and both stand 6’3. Irving’s game has a more traditional feel to it with jaw-dropping moves mixed in, while Westbrook’s skillset is heavily reliant on his athleticism.
Right now, I have both of these players right in top five, with a high probability of shooting up to the top with a big season. But without further adieu, let’s breakdown Irving versus Westbrook.
Although he finished 6th in the NBA in scoring last season, Westbrook is a fairly average shooter. For his career, he’s a 43.2 percent shooter from the field and a 30.2 percent shooter from behind the arc. He scores most of his points at the rim and it’s the only spot on the floor were he shoots at a high level. This, theoretically, makes him most successful as a pick and roll player. When his athleticism fades, unless he can become a better shooter, it’s hard to see where Westbrook is going to get his points. But still, right now, he’s lethal on the inside.
Comparatively, when you take a look at Irving’s charts, you see a lot more green and diversity in where he is an effective offensive player. Unlike Westbrook is a threat all over the court – making him a much tougher guard. Although he doesn’t have the off-the-charts athletic ability of the Thunder star, he is still is a very good athlete and he makes up for it with his ability as a shooter – and ultimately, that’s more valuable.
As passers, Westbrook dishes out more assists than Irving dies, per 36 minutes (Westbrook averages 7.3, while Irving averages 6.2). However, Westbrook averages 3.6 turnovers per 36 minutes, while Irving 3.2 per 36. These stats are still tough to gauge for a variety reasons (namely Westbrook’s much larger sample size) but there are still trends her worth noting – mostly in the turnover department.
It’s a close race here, but I give the advantage to Irving. He has more tools at his disposal, commits fewer turnovers and ultimately brings more to table than Westbrook.
It’s well established by now that Irving is a pretty poor defensive player. I still think there is something to be said about him expending so much energy on offense that he can’t put as much into defense. Still, he’s a pretty poor defender. He is not capable of stopping any point guard with a decent offensive game and that’s something he’ll have to improve on if he wants to ever become top dog.
Westbrook, on the other hand, has a resume that speaks for itself. In 2008, while still playing for UCLA, Westbrook was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and has shown flashes of ability to stop opposing guards in the NBA. He hasn’t won any awards or been recognized on the All-NBA teams for defense since turning pro, but he’s stil pretty darn good – and most importantly – he’s better than Irving. Advantage Westbrook.
Both men have lingering questions about their ability that are going to have to be addressed at one point or another. Irving has already faced serious issues with injuries, while Westbrook has taken large amounts of criticism for taking too many shots (this giving Kevin Durant less of an opportunity to shoot).
Personally, I don’t view either of these as career defining issues. As I’ve noted many times, I think Irving’s injuries are largely flukes. As for Westbrook, him shooting is who he is. I definitely think there are streaks where he shoots too much and takes over the Thunder’s offensive to a fault. But as player, that’s who he is. It’s what got him here – so why should he change it?
On a positive note, Irving has a clutch gene that I don’t think Westbrook has (partially due to him sharing the floor with Durant). Irving has an “it” factor as a player that Westbrook can’t match. I mean, when have you seen Westbrook make a play like this gem from All-Star weekend that leaves the basketball world in shock? Advantage Irving.
While Westbrook has done more to this point, give me Irving now and in the future. He has more diversity in his scoring and he’ll age better as a player than Westbrook. It’s a tough call, but the Cavaliers star brings more to table overall. His defense does – and will until I see marked improvement – worry me, but it’s not enough for me to take Westbrook over him. Advantage Irving.
 Odd enough, I don’t consider any Top-5 point guard outside of Chris Paul an elite defender.