It’s always fun to compare similarly talented players who have entirely different circumstances; that’s been the prevailing theme in the NBA this year, hasn’t it? But if you’re willing to turn your attention away from the “LeBron vs. KD” debate for just a split second, let’s consider another interesting comparison: Stephen Curry vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving.
The similarities are striking. Both players are elite point guards tasked with leading their teams this season, though “carrying,” as opposed to “leading,” would be a better way to describe Kyrie’s role with the Cavs. They’re also the two most prolific scoring point guards in the league, and they’re exceptionally gifted ball handlers.
On paper, Curry is clearly the better of the two this year. He edges Kyrie essentially across the board, with an advantage in points, assists, rebounds, steals, FG%, 3P% and FT%, all while averaging only 0.6 more minutes per game. You get the point.
Yet the two aren’t on a level playing field by any means. This season, Curry is a member of arguably the best starting lineup in the NBA, while Irving has had little more to work with than Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao in the way of consistent production.
It’s worth wondering what Kyrie could do with a supporting cast, but the answer is also right in front of us. In this year’s All-Star Game, the Cavs point guard dropped 31 points on 14-of-17 shooting, with all three misses coming from beyond the arc, to go along with a game-high 14 assists. Oh, and he brought home MVP honors as well.
That’s not to say that performance is indicative of how Irving would play on an NBA team with Warriors-level talent. The 2014 All-Star Game set the record for least amount of defense played (literally, with 318 combined points), and it also doesn’t hurt to be able to pass to a supporting cast consisting of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Dwyane Wade. But for at least a taste of Irving’s ability when he isn’t held back by below-average teammates, look no further than the Cavs point guard’s explosive performance in that game.
Down the line, there’s an argument to be made that Irving has greater potential than Curry. He’s two years behind the latter in terms of NBA experience, and while Curry has likely more or less reached his ceiling, Irving has plenty of room to grow. That’s mainly due to his superior athleticism and build, which is especially important when going up against more physical guards. It also helps Irving drive to the basket with better success.
Of course, the converse of this is that Curry will perhaps go down as the best shooter in NBA history, and he’ll possibly always be a better facilitator. Additionally, Curry is also the safer pick, given his established success and Kyrie’s relatively disappointing season this year. Even so, with Irving’s scoring versatility and brighter future as a defender, he’ll be right up there with Curry for years to come.
For now, Steph is certainly the more accomplished and better player of the two. He’s recorded better numbers, achieved playoff success and put up record-setting totals. But it would be a mistake to write off Kyrie for his lackluster 2013-14 campaign—imagine what he’ll do when (or if) the Cavaliers gather some semblance of a supporting cast. In a few years, don’t be surprised if the “Steph vs. Kyrie” conversation has heated up quite a bit.