Kyrie Irving Vs John Wall: ESPN’s 25 under 25


As ESPN does every year, they’ve recently ranked their top 25 players in the NBA under 25. This is always an interesting debate and never black and white, but ESPN’s Amin Elhassan, David Thorpe, and Kevin Pelton gave their takes on the best young players in all of basketball. However, the case could be made that they got it wrong.

In their rankings, they put John Wall at three and Kyrie Irving at four. While they may not be blatantly wrong – it’s certainly not an obvious decision either way – the argument could be made that Kyrie Irving projects better than John Wall long term. Which, after all, is what these rankings are suppose to be about.

Depending on what you value in your Point Guard, a case could be made for both Wall and Irving; again, as previously stated, it’s not a black and white topic. Both guards are incredibly talented and invaluable assets.

Lets begin by looking at what makes both players great:

Dec 5, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) dunks the ball as Denver Nuggets guard

Ty Lawson

(3) looks on in the second quarter at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Athleticism: Wall clearly has the advantage here. While Irving is, of course, no slouch in the athletic department, Wall is all world. Wall is amongst the most athletic players in the world and Irving is simply not at that level.

Passing: This, too, would seem to be in favor of Wall. And though he does average significantly more assists per game, he also turns the ball over at a much, much higher rate. In fact, Wall is averaging 4 turnovers per contest and nearly 6 per 100 possessions. Irving, on the other hand, is turning the ball over just 1.7 times per game and just 2.3 per 100 possessions. Assists are the most commonly referred to stat when comparing player’s passing abilities, but it doesn’t tell you everything. In fact, when looked at from a different stand point, the numbers indicate that Irving, not Wall, is the smarter, more skilled playmaker with the ball in his hands. The assist discrepancy between Irving and Wall is rather large, no doubt, but they’re both asked to do very different things for their respective teams. I can understand why they would likely give Wall the edge here, but Irving is a vastly better passer and playmaker than the average fan gives him credit for.

Skill Level: This isn’t even a contest. Kyrie Irving is arguably one of the most skilled basketball players in the world. He has the ability to get anywhere he wants, whenever he wants, on the floor. Irving combines ball handling, finishing, and shooting better than perhaps any player in the league (one could put up a good argument for Steph Curry, though). Irving’s shooting nearly 48% from the floor, 41% from 3, 84% from the FT line, and 60% True Shooting percentage. Wall’s numbers are not all that comparable: 44/32/77 and 52% True Shooting.

“The gap between Irving’s skill and IQ and Wall’s is larger than Wall’s defensive gap over Irving.” – Amin Elhassan

Defense: This, like the skill level of the two players, is a no brainer, but, this time, going the other way. Wall is a very, very good defender. Probably borderline elite at the Point Guard position. Irving still has much work to do on this side of the ball. However, that being said, Irving has showed major strides in that department throughout this young season. In fact, while he’s still far from a finished product, Irving is showing flashes that he could turn himself into an above average defender. But, alas, he’s still not on Wall’s level. Wall’s athleticism definitely gives him an advantage on the defensive end of the court that Irving will have a hard time ever matching, but, nonetheless, Irving is improving.

Age: Age is a big factor when attempting to project long term success. Wall is 24 years old. Irving is currently just 22. Two years is a big difference in the NBA. And while Irving is two years younger than Wall, he already has a much better skill set/understanding of the offensive side of the ball. Wall, at 24, is, no doubt, very young. He still has a ton of time to hone his craft. There is no doubting that. However, Irving is already light years ahead of him in the skill department and Wall is behind the eight ball in terms of age.

Dec 11, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) attempts a shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

This biggest question here is what is more likely to happen? Wall improving his skill level? Or Irving improving his defense. In my opinion, I believe that Irving has shown to have made much more strides on the defensive end than Wall has on the offensive end. There is no doubting that Wall will get better offensively. Obviously. But Irving’s basketball IQ and feel for offense is not something that Wall will likely ever obtain. Nor could many other players, for that matter. Irving is an elite offensive talent that does not come around all that often. And while Irving may never reach Wall’s level of defense, he’s athletic enough that with improved effort and understanding he can become a solid, + defender at the Point Guard position. The effort is there now. That was, in my opinion, Irving’s biggest flaw on the defensive end. Irving is now playing with a defensive intensity that he’s never shown before. Sure, it still needs to continue to improve. No doubt. But he’s trending up.

More from Cleveland Cavaliers

The decision between Wall and Irving is all personal preference, really. It’s all about what you value in a player and a Point Guard. Wall is a world renowned athlete. Irving could be the most skilled guard in all of basketball. You couldn’t really go wrong with either player. That being said, on a list supposedly based on projections, the younger, more skilled player, who’s continuing to get better at the defensive end of the court every game, should be ranked higher than the superhuman athlete who’s still very much a work in progress on the offensive side of the court.

I’ll leave you with this because I believe ESPN’s Amin Elhassan, who voted Irving over Wall, put it best: “The gap between Irving’s skill and IQ and Wall’s is larger than Wall’s defensive gap over Irving.”

Connect with FoS

How do you compare Kyrie Irving and John Wall?