Is Kyrie Irving Better Than Allen Iverson?
A little over 30 minutes into the discussion, the conversation turned to Kyrie Irving. Durant had high praise for Irving saying, "He just makes you happy when you watch him play. You just smile when you watch him play because for somebody to be that skilled, you know he had to work tirelessly at it. The stuff that he has in his package is next-level stuff that you can try to teach your kids to do it, but you'll never be able to do it."
After Simmons mentioned that Irving is, "...the best offensive inside-out point guard I've ever seen," Durant's agent Rich Kleiman brought up Allen Iverson.
Simmons immediately said that Irving is better than Iverson.
Durant agreed, then dropped the words over which die-hard Iverson loyalists have been searing: "Kyrie is better than A.I."
But is he?
Irving and Iverson have a lot of similarities beyond their physical size and skills on the court: They both played under legendary college coaches in John Thompson Jr. and Mike Krzyzewski, they both went number one overall in their respective Draft years, and they both won Rookie of the Year honors.
However, putting Irving's six professional seasons up against Iverson's entire career is hard to do, yet when you dive into the numbers, you realize that the concept of Irving being superior than Iverson isn't too far-fetched.
Here's a look at both player's regular season averages through the first six years of their respective careers:
|Allen Iverson (1996-2002)||26.9||4.1||5.6||2.3||0.317||0.451||0.509|
|Kyrie Irving (2011-2017)||21.6||3.4||5.5||1.3||0.383||0.512||0.561|
Iverson led the NBA in shot attempts two of his first four years in the league, and easily averaged more points per game than Irving. He also led the league in usage rate for four of his first six years, and his steal rate was superior to Irving's. On the other hand, Irving is clearly the better three-point shooter, and he put up better efficiency stats.
However, looking into more advanced stats, it seems Iverson still had a slight edge. Irving had a total of 40.4 win shares (WS), to Iverson's 45.9 WS. Iverson also edged out Irving in Value Over Replacement (VORP), a box score estimate of the points per 100 team possessions that a player contributed over a replacement player. Iverson had a total 22.9 VORP in his first six years, compared to Irving's 16.2.
Finishing At The Rim
The one part of Irving's game that absolutely mesmerized those watching the Finals was his ability to finish at the rim. Even compared to Iverson, who was also great at navigating seven-footers in the paint, Irving's ability to finish at the rim has been even better.
This chart shows both Iverson's and Irving's field goal percentage within 0-3 feet, plotted over the first six years of their careers:
Irving now has three seasons where he has converted at least 60 percent of his shots within three feet from the basket, and during this year's playoffs, he shot 57 percent in the restricted area. After shooting better than 68 percent from within three feet during his rookie campaign, Iverson never had another season where he shot above 60 percent from 0-3 feet.
At age 25, Irving has undeniably amassed an impressive playoff legacy. (Okay, he's had some help from that guy LeBron James, but it's still impressive.) Here's a look at Iverson and Irving's career playoff averages:
Iverson averaged nearly eight more shot attempts per game in his playoff life, and topped Irving's scoring by almost six points a night. Irving, however, tops Iverson in win shares (WS) -- over just three postseasons, Irving has already collected 7.4 WS, compared to 7.3 WS for Iverson in his entire postseason career.
Before a verdict in this case is reached, it has to be noted that the NBA of Iverson's era was vastly more physical than it is today. However, you could also make the argument that if Irving hadn't have shared the court with James over the last three seasons, he could have already dwarfed Iverson's averages.
In a league that judges a player's greatness on titles rather than statistics, Irving already has the edge. His playoff record and success has already surpassed Iverson's.
That said, Iverson was a warrior. Not only did he lead the league in usage rate five times, but he led the league in total minutes twice and minutes per game seven times. On the other hand, Irving's now been to the NBA Finals three straight seasons, earning a ring in 2016.
So while Iverson's place in the NBA pantheon will never be questioned, his place among the top offensive point guards may be in jeopardy, thanks to Irving. At this stage of his career, the Cleveland Cavaliers floor general already has four All Star appearances, as compared to three for Iverson, so if the Duke Blue Devils product keeps it up, his bust might someday sit next to Iverson's at the Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA.
Sounds like if it were up to Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving would be there already.