Jan 13, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum (17) defends a shot by Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) during the second half of the game at the Staples Center. 97-92. Lakers won Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

How Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum Stack Up

Having a superstar player (or multiple star players) helps in any sport. Whether it’s Miguel Cabrera with the Detroit Tigers (I know, not my favorite example either), or Adrian Peterson with the Minnesota Vikings, these transcendent players can raise their teams to another level. Having a superstar in the NBA, is perhaps more important than any other sport. As great as Cabrera and Peterson are, they cannot carry their teams the way LeBron James or Kevin Durant can. This is both due to the smaller size of a basketball team, and the fact that all players must play both offense and defense.

In today’s NBA though, having one superstar is not seen as enough. Most teams and those who cover them want to pair their superstar with another (or two) to share the load in carrying their team. This is nothing new to the league. Jordan had Pippen. Magic had Kareem. This season, the Cleveland Cavaliers will find out if Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum are a strong enough duo to carry the team back to the playoffs, and beyond. Entering his third year, Irving is seen as a consensus future superstar around the league. Already the young point guard has been the first overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Rookie of the Year, All-Star, and focus of a Pepsi advertising campaign. While he did not play last season due to knee issues, Andrew Bynum started at center for the Western Conference in the 2012 All-Star Game. He was also second team All-NBA, and a two-time NBA Champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, all while still just 25 years old. Together Irving and Bynum certainly have the potential to become one of the top duos in the NBA. Today, we’ll match them against the top duos in the NBA and discuss what they need to do to become a truly elite tandem. For argument’s sake, we’ll assume that Bynum can still play at a high level, while factoring his injury history for comparison.

Atlanta Hawks: Al Horford and Jeff Teague

A two-time All Star and former All-NBA third team member, Harford is one of the most underrated players in the league. The big man is a solid defender who can play in the post and also has a solid midrange shot. Harford is also capable of playing both center and power forward with equal success. With the exception of the 2011-2012 season, Harford has also been consistently healthy in his career. In the case of Teague, I debated between he and Paul Millsap as the second player in the duo, but settled on Teague as he is younger and signed to a longer deal. While Harford matches up well with Bynum due to his superior health and solid skills, Teague, while a very solid player, is nowhere near Irving’s level. Advantage: Cavaliers

Boston Celtics: Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green

A four time All-Star, Rondo is arguably on Irving’s level despite his lack of shooting ability and occasionally selfish play. While no one knows if Rondo will retain his elite quickness when he returns from his ACL injury, he is still a very nice player to build around. Green had his moments during his first season back from a heart issue, but remains inconsistent and somewhat inefficient, traits that followed him from Oklahoma City. Advantage: Cavaliers

Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams and Brook Lopez

While I considered both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for these spots, Brooklyn’s offense will still revolve around the play of Williams and Lopez. In many ways this duo mirrors Irving and Bynum. Williams, while nearly eight years older than Irving, is an elite offensive point guard whose effort can be somewhat inconsistent, particularly on the defensive side. Lopez is a true center that is extremely skilled in the post and efficient with his offense, but a bit of a lumberer in today’s NBA. While not the defender or rebounder Bynum is, Lopez still deserved his All-Star nod last year. Both men have also battled their fair share of injuries, but have no concerns as severe as Bynum’s knees. Advantage: Brooklyn (by a hair)

Charlotte Bobcats: Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker

Despite his subpar defense, Jefferson is a highly efficient post scorer, and Walker showed tremendous improvement in his second year. That being said, the once-and-future Hornets are nowhere near contention and Jefferson and Walker are not an elite duo. Advantage: Cavaliers

Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah

Another duo that is somewhat similar to Irving and Bynum. A former MVP and three time All-Star, Rose has battled injuries the last few years, missing all of last season and playing a mere 39 games the year before. No one is sure what kind of player he will be when he returns from his ACL injury. Noah, who comes in just ahead of Luol Deng for the second spot, is an underrated offensive player, tremendous defender, and heart and soul of the Bulls. He has also battled his fair share of injuries, playing no more than 66 games over the last four years. Considering Rose and Bynum’s recent injury history, this comes down to a war of attrition between Irving and Noah. Advantage (with great hesitation): Cavaliers

Detroit Pistons: Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith

Picking Detroit’s top two was tough for me as Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are commonly considered the future of the Piston’s. I picked Jennings and Smith over the two big men because they will shoulder much of the burden of Detroit’s expected playoff contention this year. Both Jennings and Smith are polarizing players known just as month for their weaknesses as their strengths. Jennings is a quick guard who can get his own shot against anyone. He is also a very capable three point shooter and passer who has a low turnover rate. He is undermined by terrible shot selection, which kept his field goal percentage below 40% for his career. Smith is a tremendous athlete and one of the best defenders in the game. He is also an exceptional rebounder and passer who can finish at the rim with authority. Unfortunately Smith’s effort on both ends can be inconsistent, and he notoriously settles for long jump shots early in the clock that he shoots a low percentage on. Still, the health of Jennings and Smith make this a closer contest than one would guess at first. Advantage: Cavaliers

Indiana Pacers: Paul George and Roy Hibbert

The Pacers are known more for their excellent starting five than for an elite top two, but George and Hibbert are as solid as they come. Both men have been All-Stars within the last two seasons, and George is the only player besides Irving who has been drafted since 2010 to make an All-Star team. Hibbert beats out David West and Danny Granger for the second spot on this list due to his age, health, and playoff performance. While Irving and Bynum are better offensive players, George and Hibbert are stronger defensively and far healthier. They are two of the biggest reasons why Indiana must be considered true contenders. Advantage: Indiana

Miami Heat: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade

If Wade is healthy, this isn’t even close. In fact, Wade could miss the entire season putting Chris Bosh in the second spot and it still wouldn’t change anything. As long as LeBron James is part of the Heat, they automatically will have one of the top two duos in the league. Advantage: Miami

Milwaukee Bucks: Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova

O.J. Mayo, John Henson, and even Caron Butler received some consideration hear. While all of these men are nice players, the Bucks simply do not have a superstar at this time, although they are hoping Sanders can become one. Advantage: Cavaliers

New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler

Carmelo Anthony is another one of the more divisive players in the league. A prolific volume scorer, Anthony is also a subpar defender who does not pass or rebound as much as critics would like. These facts, along with a somewhat inefficient offense make Melo one of the most frequently cited players in overrated/underrated discussions. Chandler is a defensive anchor who has become an underrated offensive factor by playing strictly to his strengths and improving his free throw shooting. Both men are probably at the end of their primes and have battled injuries, though not to the same extent as Irving and Bynum. Advantage (Barely): Knicks

Orlando Magic: Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo

Besides Vucevic and Oladipo, the Magic possess promising young talent in Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless along with accomplished veterans in Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson. None of these men even begin to match up with Irving and Bynum though. Advantage: Cavaliers

Philadelphia 76ers: Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel

The 76ers are in full-on tank mode, as evidenced by the selection of two rookies who have yet to play a minute in the NBA as their top duo. Thaddeus Young also received consideration here. Advantage: Cavaliers

Toronto Raptors: Rudy Gay and Jonas Valanciunas

Kyle Lowry was also considered for one of these spots, but he lacks the upside or contract length of either player. Gay is a talented athlete who can play either forward position and scores well on the eyeball test even if he struggles with the analytics assessment. Valanciunas is a very promising young big who Cavalier fans will always link to Tristan Thompson due to their respective draft positions. A solid duo that lacks elite-level star power so far. Advantage: Cavaliers

Washington Wizards: John Wall and Bradley Beal

The Wizards are in many ways the Cavaliers’ mirror image. Looking to contend after their last playoff run ended in disaster, Washington is built around an extremely talented point guard, a promising young shooting guard, a center who can be an elite player but constantly battles injuries, and a defensive-minded high-energy power forward. That being said, most experts put Irving slightly ahead of John Wall (Kyrie’s superior shooting edging out Wall’s defensive skills, and neither Bradley Beal nor Nene have ever played on the level that Bynum has the last few years of his career. (a slight) Advantage: Cavaliers

Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis

Nowitzki has been one of the elite players in the game for over thirteen seasons now. Even has he has begun his decline due to age and injuries, the big German remains one of the truly elite offensive weapons in the game. Ellis is a high scoring (but extremely inefficient) combo guard who sees himself as an All-Star, but whose shortcomings with defense and shot selection almost completely negate his skills. Advantage: Cavaliers 

Denver Nuggets: Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried

Besides Lawson and Faried, Danilo Gallinari must be considered for one of the spots as part of Denver’s top duo. While all three players are very talented, they ultimately illustrate the Nuggets’ design as a deep, well-rounded team rather than one run on star power. Advantage: Cavaliers

Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut

Despite the signing of Andre Iguodala, the growth of Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, and last year’s All-Star appearance by David Lee, Curry and Bogut are still the most important players on the team. Another duo (and team) that bears a striking resemblance to the Cavaliers, Curry is a dynamic offensive point guard who has battled injuries throughout his career. He is a better shooter than Irving (that’s saying something), but cannot finish at the rim like the Cavalier point guard.  Likewise, Bogut has many documented injury concerns, but his a defensive force and capable offensive player. Curry anchors the offense, Bogut the defense.  Advantage (by the skin of their teeth): Cavaliers

Houston Rockets: James Harden and Dwight Howard

Even in Bynum’s career year, most experts still ranked him as the second best center in the league due to the presence of Howard. Despite playing different positions, Harden and Irving are similar players in regards to their deceptive athleticism, ball handling, scoring ability, and underwhelming defense. Harden is a better rebounder while Irving is a stronger outside shooter. Harden has not had Irving’s injury issues however. Advantage: Rockets 

Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin

Kyrie Irving hopes to one day be the best point guard in the NBA and one of the top five players in the game. Chris Paul is the best point guard in the NBA and one of the top five players in the game. Griffin has actually seen his numbers decline in each of his first three years in the league. That being said, he is still a three-time All-Star and offensive force. Advantage: Clippers

Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol

As recently as two years ago, the Lakers would have laughed the Cavalier duo out of the building. Now, Pau Gasol has been in decline due to age, injury, and poor coaching. Bryant’s recovery from his achilles injury at this stage in his career is no sure thing. This injury has altered many players’ careers and played a big part in the relatively early retirement of Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. Advantage (in a huge upset): Cavaliers

Memphis Grizzlies: Marc Gasol and Mike Conley

While Zach Randolph was an All-Star with Memphis last year, I gave Conley the second spot alongside Gasol due to his age, occasional Randolph trade speculation, and what seems to be a commitment from the Memphis management to Gasol and Conley as the core of the team. Conley has spent much of his career proving critics wrong, and enters his seventh season as a skilled offensive player and plus defender. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Gasol’s exceptional two-way game puts him in the conversation of the top twenty players in the league. These Grizzlies are an underrated, but highly effective pair. Another upset, Advantage: Grizzlies

Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio

Kevin Love is one of the best offensive players and rebounders in the league. His ability to score both inside and outside makes him a versatile weapon that any team can build around. However, Love’s defensive shortcomings are well documented and he has averaged less than 37 games over the last two years. Injuries have also been a major hindrance to Rubio, causing him to average 49 games per season at this early stage of his career. While he is an exceptional passer and defender, Rubio’s complete lack of shooting acumen makes him an average offensive player. Advantage: Cavaliers

New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday

The number one pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Davis costarred with Irving at this summer’s Team USA basketball camp. An underrated offensive player who has the potential to become one of the truly elite defenders in the game, Davis has been compared to Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan in terms of talent and potential. Only injuries can hold the young big man back. While Holiday slipped considerably last season after making his first All-Star appearance, he is still just 23 and one of the best defensive point guards in the league. (a very tiny) Advantage: Cavaliers

 

Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook

While they posses vastly different games, most rank Westbrook either with or slightly ahead of Irving in the point guard hierarchy right now. He has also yet to miss a regular season game in his career. Durant is the consensus pick for second best player in the league. This one is no contest. Advantage: Thunder

Phoenix Suns: Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe

Like the 76ers, the Suns are more interested in a high lottery pick than a playoff spot this season. As it stands now, their two most important players are both point guards whom new head coach Jeff Hornacek hopes can play in the backcourt together.  In his second go-around with the Suns, Dragic has established himself as the offensive focal point of the team. “The Dragon” can get to the rim at will and is an excellent passer, but his outside shooting and defense are average at best. Bledsoe is one of the best athletes in the league, and was considered to be possibly the best backup point guard in the NBA last year with the Clippers. An absolute wrecking ball on defense, there are concerns about whether or not he is capable enough on offense to play thirty plus minutes against another team’s starting lineup. Both men are good players, but not stars. Advantage: Cavaliers

Portland Trailblazers: LeMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard

After making All-Star appearances each of the last two years, Aldridge is finally getting his due as one of the elite big men in the NBA. Capable of playing both power forward and center, Aldridge can play in the post and also has a solid jumper. He is also a solid free throw shooter and capable rebounder. Aldridge’s biggest weakness is his defense, which is average at best. While he has shown himself to be every bit the same level of player as Blake Griffin and Kevin Love, at twenty-eight years old (you thought he was younger right?) there is a solid chance Aldridge is entering the end of his prime years. Last year’s rookie of the year, Lillard led the NBA in minutes played and proved himself to be a very good offensive player and horrid defensive one. Lillard is also already two years older than Irving  and had advanced metrics that were only a bit above average. Neither player projects as the best one on a true contender Advantage: Cavaliers 

Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins and Ben McLemore

Cousins’ talent and trials are well documented. An extraordinary passer and rebounder who can score in the post at an elite level, Cousins is also an abysmal defender who takes bad shots, fights with teammates and coaches, and has several suspensions to his credit. Experts are divided on McLemore. Some see him as a future all-star and elite scorer. Others doubt his aggression and all-around game. Either way, the consensus is that both players have a lot of growing up to do. Advantage: Cavaliers

San Antonio Spurs: Tim Duncan and Tony Parker

It’s undeniable that this Spurs duo, particularly Duncan, are at the end of their primes, if not their careers, but I am not going to bet against them. Duncan posted per 36 minute numbers in line with his career norms, was first team All-NBA, and was sixth in the league in PER. Parker averaged 20.3 points, 70.6 assists, and was second team All-NBA. Both men were All-Stars last year. One of the great, but underrated duos in NBA history. Advantage: Spurs

Utah Jazz: Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward

Enes Kanter and Trey Burke also received consideration as the Jazz have one of the more intriguing young cores in the league. Favors is a terrific rebounder and defensive force who is improving as an offensive player. With the departure of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap he is posed for a breakout. Hayward is an underrated and constantly improving offensive player who gives solid effort on defense. Keep an eye on both of these players as well as whomever the Jazz adds in the 2014 draft. That being said, Irving and Bynum more proven and Irving is the youngest player of the four. Advantage: Cavaliers

And there you have it. Right Irving and Bynum are roughly around the fifth best duo in the Eastern Conference and tenth best in the NBA. This brings up two questions. First, is this set in stone? I say no. With good health and improvement as well as the decline of other players, Bynum and Irving could pass the Knicks, Nets, Pacers, Grizzlies, and Spurs’ duos among the best in the league. Of course without some improvement on defense from Irving as well as improved health for both men, the Bulls, Lakers, Warriors, Pelicans, Wizards, and possibly even the Pistons possess duos that could pass up the Cavaliers’ twosome. Second, does this serve as a ranking for the Cavaliers as a team? Once again, the answer is no. Two players do not make a team. The play of Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, and Anthony Bennett among others will have an enormous impact on the Cavaliers’ season, as will the rest of the rotation of every other team in the league. Still, the fifth seed is not completely out of the question for the new-look Cavaliers. To get there, it will be essential that Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum play to their superstar potential.

Tags: Andrew Bynum Cleveland Cavaliers Kevin Durant Kyrie Irving Lebron James

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