Kyrie Irving is not a superstar

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A superstar is supposed to be someone transcendent, someone who dominates, someone who makes everyone around them better. LeBron James is a superstar. Chris Paul is a superstar. Kyrie Irving is not.


The Hype

While not a superstar, Kyrie Irving was an All-Star in 2013, and has since found his way into the national spotlight. The journey to the forefront of NBA circles began with his Rookie of the Year winning freshman season in the league, then was thrusted forward with a wave of hype that began rolling during last year’s All-Star weekend. Despite having won the Rookie of the Year the previous season, most around the country had yet to get a good look at the former Duke Blue Devil.

That changed last February in Houston when Kyrie broke the ankles of Brandon Knight in the Rising Stars Challenge. He made it rain in route to a 3-point shootout victory, and then showcased some crafty yo-yo dribbling and circus finishing in the All-Star game itself. As far as the world was concerned Kyrie Irving had arrived among the NBA’s elite. The buzz around Irving continued to grow with the third installment of Irving’s genius “Uncle Drew” marketing campaign for Pepsi,  and heading into the 2013-13 season Irving was ranked by ESPN as the league’s 8th best player.

Apart from all the national attention, the narrative of Kyrie Irving’s rise has been set against the backdrop of 49 wins and 97 losses1, a success rate of just over 33%. Sure, the majority of those losses were in his first two years — years that are supposed to be formative and allow for mistakes, but here we find ourselves in year three of the Kyrie Irving experience and the wins still aren’t coming. Incredibly so, Irving has his team losing more astoundingly in his third year in the league than he ever did during his first two forays through the NBA calendar. This season the Kyrie led Cavs have lost a staggering 11 games by 15 points or more, including thrashings of 29, 30, and 44 at the hands of Minnesota, San Antonio, and Sacramento2

A superstar doesn’t allow his team to lose by 44 to the Sacramento Kings. It’s that simple. LeBron James, Chris Paul, or Kevin Durant do not ever let that happen to their teams. No way.

How special is he?

Since Kyrie is clearly not playing at a superstar level this season3 it’s perplexing to me that everyone assumes he’s worth superstar money. Every few weeks you’ll hear talking heads on the radio ranting about whether or not Kyrie will end up re-signing with the Cavs, and making the assumption the decision lies exclusively in the Irving camp.  That perception is perpetuated by videos such as the little boy asking Kyrie “if he was going to leave like LeBron?

The city was burned once by the hottest girl on the planet and now we’ve all fallen irrationally in love with the first pretty face we saw. I’m all for spending money on a pretty lady, but before I’m willing to write off all other options and give her that fat rock I better be damn sure she’s the one I want going forward.

Of the top 40 players in the league based off of PER, 12 are point guards.4 With the league making a point to keep defenders’ hands off of ball handlers, life for point guards in the NBA has never been better or easier. In turn, the league is churning out good, young point guards. With the average age of those  aforementioned 12 point guards a ripe 26 years old, don’t expect the league to have a shortage any time soon.  All of this only decreases the value of Kyrie Irving. Since good point guards are a dime a dozen these days, it should require a point guard to be leaps and bounds above the average to command a max contract.

Age PPG APG TOV PER 13-14 Salary 14-15 Salary
Chris Paul 28 19.6 11.2 2.5 27.4 $18,668,431 $20,068,563
Isaiah Thomas 24 19 6.1 2.6 21.8 $884,293 -
Stephen Curry 25 23 9.3 4.4 21.9 $9,887,642 $10,629,213
Russell Westbrook 25 21.3 7 4 21.4 $14,693,906 $15,719,062
Mike Conley 26 18.1 6.5 2 21 $8,200,001 $8,894,216
Kyrie Irving 21 21.4 6.1 2.8 20 $5,607,240 $7,070,730
Eric Bledsoe 24 18 5.8 3.3 20.2 $2,626,473 -
Ty Lawson 26 17.9 8.6 3.2 20.1 $10,786,517 $11,595,506
Tony Parker 31 17.9 6.3 2.5 20.1 $12,500,000 $12,500,000
Kyle Lowry 27 15.9 7.3 2.1 19.9 $6,210,000 -
Damian Lillard 23 21.4 5.7 2.4 19.8 $3,202,920 $3,340,920
John Wall 23 19.6 8.6 3.5 19.8 $7,459,925 $13,701,250

Much of this is why the Wizards took heat this off season for pre maturely offering John Wall a max extension. In his three years in the league out of Kentucky, Wall had shown flashes of the superior athleticism and ball skills that made him a number one pick, but hardly enough to warrant a 5 year max contract that puts him in the same air as someone like Paul George.

The rationalization

The good news with Irving is he’s still young, and because this will be his second NBA contract and not his third, the Cavs will be able to pay him around $5 million less per year than Chris Paul is earning in Los Angeles. With a Kyrie max contract worth around $13.5 million in his first year it really isn’t much more than the $12.5 million Tony Parker earns or the $10.8 million Ty Lawson pulls in. At the end of the day it may make sense for Dan Gilbert to overpay a little to ensure a dance partner instead of getting stuck alone at the punch bowl.

Irving has super talent, and because of that he is sure to get his NBA pay day — that much he has earned. However, to be considered a genuine superstar and someone a championship team can build around he has to do more than just be talented. He has to win more than one out of every three games. He has to lead instead of pout when the s**t hits the fan. And most importantly he has to make damn sure he never loses by 44 points to the freaking Kings ever again.

Image: Scott Sargent/WFNY

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Footnotes:

  1. Games in which Kyrie played []
  2. Sacramento!? []
  3. 30th in the NBA in PER []
  4. Paul, Thomas, Curry, Westbrook, Conley, Irving, Bledsoe, Lawson, Parker, Lowry, Lillard, and Wall. Rondo would most likely be on this list if healthy []
  • mgbode

    I completely agree with the premise. It has been frustrating to watch him lately as even when he gets it going offensively, he seems to be giving back just as much on the other end to his counterpart. And, when he’s struggling offensively (which he has this year more often), it can get ugly.

    However, I would put an extremely important word at the end of the title: Yet

    As such, here are the counterpoints to why he does deserve a max extension:
    (1) 21yo
    (2) WinShares of 4.1 and 5.3 his first 2 seasons. He is on track for in between those numbers this year (regression!), but still plenty of time for him to get hot for a long stretch too.
    (3) offensive PG’s are more prominent, but they are also now nearly required. It is extremely difficult to have a good offensive team w/o a good offensive PG unless you have someone like LeBron to act as pseudo-PG.
    (4) he is our Stephen Curry. No, he doesn’t shoot as well from the outside, but he has shown an ability to take over offensively, while needing help on defense. There are very few players in the NBA who can so dominate on the offensive end of the game like he can.

    {4.A}Take a look at Curry’s 21yo season. That would be his rookie year. So, consider that Irving has a 2 year head-start on where Curry was at this age and has a more proven background in the league now. Really, Curry made The Leap from really good player to superstar last year. He was 24yo and in his 4th year in the league.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    “A superstar doesn’t allow his team to lose by 44 to the Sacramento Kings. It’s that simple. LeBron James, Chris Paul, or Kevin Durant do not ever let that happen to their teams. No way.”

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/200901070MIN.html

    I mean, it’s not the Kings, but it was still a 42 point loss to a 10-25 Timberwolves team. I don’t think a 44 point loss to the Kings means anything in the big picture.

    I don’t really understand why we have to definitively label Kyrie a superstar or not one at this point in time? Let him play out his contract, see where the team is, and then in his restricted free agency the Cavs can decide what to do or how to pay him.

    But I don’t think anyone is saying Kyrie is LeBron or Durant. Those are once in a generation players.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Also, look at the dip in LeBron’s numbers his 4th season. Even the greatest players have regressions along the way of development. It happens. And if LeBron can have a setback year, I certainly think it’s understandable for it to happen to Kyrie.

    It’s way too early to be saying anything definitive about Kyrie’s future. Kyrie is having an off season, mostly because his shot is off. He’s having career lows in 3pt%, 2pt%, eFG%, FT%, TS%. If he gets his shot back, he’ll be right back to where he was his first two seasons. I’m not worried about him……yet.

  • BenRM

    To be fair to the first pretty face since LBJ, it is a _really_ pretty face.

    I agree, though, with the notion that Kyrie has not shown the type of progression that we thought he might. Maybe its the new focus on defense, maybe it’s Mike Brown’s offense that doesn’t exist…who knows why.

    But I think you still have to say that Kyrie has a brighter future than almost any other player in the league right (barring injury), except for maybe Anthony Davis.

    So frustrating? Yes.
    Disappointing? A bit.

    But I’m not going to worry too much. In fact, a down year or so probably helps Cleveland keep Kyrie in the long run.

  • Steve_Not_Chad

    I think there are far more people stating Kyrie’s not a superstar, than there are people stating that he is one.

  • WFNYKirk

    There’s a good case for a lot of what you’re laying down here, Ryan. A couple thoughts:

    -PER has it’s limits. There’s some other metrics like true shooting percentage that likely capture Irving’s role as a scoring point guard better. It is startling to see him as low as 30th however.
    -In Cleveland, you have to draft your star and pay him the max even if he’s worth slightly less than it. Letting him walk would be impossible to recover from image wise.
    -to enter that next level, defense and mental toughness MUST become bigger parts of Kyrie’s game. Some more ability to pass when he attacks wouldn’t hurt either.
    -Irving needs a second star with him that has more of a mental toughness and edge. Maybe Deng is that guy, maybe not.

  • john23

    “I’m all for spending money on a pretty lady”

    I hear you brother!

  • adbrowning

    He is not a natural PG and I think that hurts him. If he continues to grow as a facilitator his value really increases, because he already is a very good scorer.

  • boomhauertjs

    Early in the season, somebody on Cavs Twitter said it best: “Kyrie looks like he spent the summer having people tell him his s*** don’t stink.” I think Mike Brown’s been cracking the whip on him, but it’s hard to tell if it’s effective at all.

  • guest

    S-bomb

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I miss the Frenchman!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I hope Kyrie has learned just how good he had it under Byron Scott.

  • http://brian23.com Brian

    i know it’s nitpicking but since they’re both near their prime right now aren’t they twice in a generation players lol

  • Frankie Rappa

    Superstars don’t let their teams get blown out? Cuz the heat just got blown out by the wizards last night and were down by 35. And CP3 went down by 30 at a point in a loss to the Suns… That being said Kyrie is still learning how to be a leader and that’s ok at 2 1/2 seasons in on the youngest team in the league

  • Lunch

    Unless someone can explain that the differences between Byron Scott’s coaching system and Mike Brown’s defense first coaching system are irrelevant, then I would say that it’s obvious that Mike Brown has a lot of influence over Kyrie Irving’s performance at the moment. Once Kyrie plays defense at a level that would satisfy Mike Brown’s expectations, then I’ll bet he’ll work on improving his offensive numbers back up.

  • mgbode

    I disagree. I hope Kyrie is learning how much deeper he needs to dig in order to help make the Cavs a contending team.

  • Return of the (Alex) Mack

    Kyrie is the best player the Cavs are going to have for a long long time. He is not a top 5 NBA player now and I doubt he ever will be but that does not mean he can’t lead the Cavs deep in the playoffs (not this season, but in the future) and potentially even further with the right group around him.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Well, wh…what I …..what I meant was…..well….I mean…

    You got me.

  • Ben Frambaugh

    Yeah…but who does the Heat have that’s any good? Bosh, Wade and Lebron are overrated. /sarcasm

  • Ben Frambaugh

    I think that his defensive effort has improved drastically…and that shows up by him not being able to finish/execute on offense like he’s used to. He’s not waffling half the game…so he’s regressed some this year. Synergy has some crazy advanced stats showing that he’s a much better defender this year than he was the last two years. (That doesn’t mean he’s an actual plus defender, but he’s not a massive black hole like he used to be.)

  • Ben Frambaugh

    His defense has improved actually. As I stated above, his effort on defense is likely costing him some of his offensive efficiency that we are used to seeing.

  • mgbode

    It had earlier in the season, but lately he has been horrific on defense. It could be that his knee is still limiting his mobility a bit though.

  • nobody

    If Kyrie was a superstar, he wouldn’t have looked ordinary next to Lilliard last night…

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I was referring to him and Scott reportedly having issues at the end of the season.

    As for what he’s learning now your guess is as good as mine. What I do know is this team is almost half way through it’s season and it has nearly double the losses as it does victories. This team has entirely to much talent to be where it currently is in the standings. This team is not that great defensively despite a head coach who is supposed to be a defensive genius and who has admittedly said they practice defense to a degree that the offense has all but been skipped. And boy don’t the statistics you love point that out.

  • Achilles

    I can not say enough about how spot on this article is. I’d rather have Damon Liliard. Isiah Thomas has outlplayed KI routinely. I also think Deon Waiters has a higher ceiling than Irving because of his ability to get to the rim a la Dwayne Wade.

  • clevelander

    who the fck is ryan jones

  • http://twitter.com/bbo13 B-bo

    Agreed

  • BigDigg

    Tough season for Kyrie but way to early to write him off as a potential future superstar. Equally clear that he’s not yet close to that level. He’s got the individual skills to be the best point guard in the league so hoping he can figure it out.

  • Rob

    Thank you for writing about this. The Cleveland Media seems so reluctant to call out KI for anything other than defense. The truth is, his offense hasn’t been very good post LY’s All Star Game. I agree, it is not fair to compare him to LBJ / KD, two players destined to end up in the top 20 players of all time, but what about other PGs?
    Year 3:
    D Rose: 25 ppg, 8 Assists, 4 Rebs, 45% FG, won MVP, Team made Conf Finals
    R Westbrook: 22 ppg, 8 assists, 5 reb, 44% FG, Team made conference fials
    C Paul: 21 ppg, 12 assists, 4 reb, 49% FG; team missed playoffs in loaded west
    K Irving: 21 ppg, 6 assists, 3 reb, 42% FG; bottom 5 NBA team
    My issue is that he cannot effect the game in other ways outside of scoring and he is not a defensive force a la Westbrook and Paul. The silver lining is that he came into a Cavs team that was devoid of NBA talent whereas the other 3 inherited situations with other All Stars & VETERANS. Let him continue to grow alongside TT, Waiters and hopefully some savvier Vets. KI’s lack of development is partially on Grant as well as him

  • Rob

    Thank you for writing about this. The Cleveland Media seems so reluctant to call out KI for anything other than defense. The truth is, his offense hasn’t been very good post LY’s All Star Game. I agree, it is not fair to compare him to LBJ / KD, two players destined to end up in the top 20 players of all time, but what about other PGs?
    Year 3:
    D Rose: 25 ppg, 8 Assists, 4 Rebs, 45% FG, won MVP, Team made Conf Finals
    R Westbrook: 22 ppg, 8 assists, 5 reb, 44% FG, Team made conference fials
    C Paul: 21 ppg, 12 assists, 4 reb, 49% FG; team missed playoffs in loaded west
    K Irving: 21 ppg, 6 assists, 3 reb, 42% FG; bottom 5 NBA team
    My issue is that he cannot effect the game in other ways outside of scoring and he is not a defensive force a la Westbrook and Paul. The silver lining is that he came into a Cavs team that was devoid of NBA talent whereas the other 3 inherited situations with other All Stars & VETERANS. Let him continue to grow alongside TT, Waiters and hopefully some savvier Vets. KI’s lack of development is partially on Grant as well as him

  • Ben Frambaugh

    That’s something I hadn’t really considered.

  • D2012

    This is the craziest article I’ve ever read. KI doesn’t get the support in this town because we’re still butthurt from losing the greatest player on the planet. Is Kyrie Lebron? No. But to say he’s not a superstar is ludicrous. This is why we can’t have nice things. The premise of “a superstar doesn’t allow his team to lose by 44 to the Kings?” That’s stupid, as was pointed out earlier. KI is a superstar and one of the top 10 players in the league in his third year and is about to be voted as a starter in the all-star game. It is utterly ridiculous to say he’s not a superstar. Who wrote this?!

  • Jryan1001

    He’s not LeBron James know one is LeBron James, LeBron is an all around player Kyrie Irving is a point gaurd that is playing like a shooting guard. If he steps up his assist total and his defense then he will be leaning towards superstardom. It’s only his third season you have to give certain players time to see who they will become. LeBron was a rare talent that bursted into superstardom right away, Kyrie irving is not the same player he has to grow into the one position he is and always will be. Plus money changes everything for an athlete you know could do more but won’t until he sees a nice pay check.

  • Dave

    Yes, PER isn’t perfect. But there are lots of other stats that help make the case.

    You mentioned True Shooting. Well, Irving’s TS% is 52.2, and the average NBA point guard has a TS% of 53.1, and every other shooting percentage stat is noticeably mediocre. He’s not even close to the most accurate Cavalier, according to TS%: Delly, Zeller, Miles, Deng, and Varejao are all more efficient shooters. He’s below average per 48 in rebounding, assists, turnovers, and steals. He’s only slightly above average in blocks.

    The only thing Irving does exceptionally well is score a lot of points. But he takes an unusually large number of shots to do so, and the Cavs would be better off if Irving spent more of his time setting up other players for great shots because those players are more likely to score if they shoot.

  • Sulli

    Oh Im sorry did Lebron win in Cleveland? oh thats right he couldnt get the job done either. only thing is he matured more while there and was older but now he is god because he left and won a championship after recruiting a team to do it. yeah i want my kids to look up to lebron, a quiter. instead of a 21 yr old KID that is doing his best out there and not quiting, which is all you can ask for. sorry but in our house we reward hard work not just success, so you can keep praising lebron AND we will keep on loving Kyrie.

  • Dee Leo

    Cleveland, a city occupied by sports franchises with an addiction to losing, can benefit greatly from journalists like Ryan Jones. The first step to beating any addiction is admission — admission that a problem exists. Rather than continuing to toss coins into the pond of Iriving’s albeit potential, yet better defined ‘unlikely’ superstardom, the front office needs to accept that Iriving is not worth building around. Bear sunk costs for what they are, don’t perpetuate the Cavaliers’ slow declension via a “we’re already pot-committed” built defense. Kyrie is a good point guard, a good person, and will fit nicely in a star-studded starting five.

    Deal him now and continue to search for the NBA’s next superstar player.

    Also, please understand how counterintuitive it is to dismiss the article’s claims against Kyrie through the acknowledgement of a 42 point loss the Thunder suffered 4 years ago against the Timberwolves (in a game that saw Durant on the floor for 21 total minutes).There’s a difference between coincidence and evidence. I would *hope* most of you “knowledgeable fans” are able to delineate between Iriving & K.D.’s talent level.

    Realistic, intelligent, well-constructed action plan:

    1. Fire Mike Brown.

    2. Journalists & fans mobilize opinions and force Gilbert to sell the team to a competent ownership group (e.g. anyone not named Haslam).

    3. Hire a head coach that has not previously been fired from the same position by this very franchise.

    4. Do NOT win another game this season, and *pray* we get a top 3 pick.

    5. Resign Deng.

    6. Use said top 3 pick to draft a real superstar.

    7. With our final pick in this year’s draft, select Justin Bieber. This will serve as an attention grabbing publicity stunt, and maybe, by the grace of God, lead Biebs into buying some sort of minority ownership stake…thus increasing the team’s attractiveness and revenues.

    8. Change the team’s entrance music to, “Don’t Bring Me Down” by ELO, it will help set a unique ‘toughness’ tone.

    9. Enjoy the spoils, for we will now be the victors.