Kyrie’s Edge Over Steph Came From A Sizable Turnover Debt
The playoffs are a different animal. Players oppose each other, if necessary, seven times in a row in the playoffs. Twice in a row is rarity during the regular season. When a player faces an opponent several times in a row, there are fewer secrets between the teams. Players know what to expect, learning tendencies and preferences of their opponents, enabling them to spot weaknesses and identify strengths. As a result, skill takes more of a precedence than it might in the regular season because it is harder for teams to overcome skill deficits with other strategic considerations.
NBA players that are able to adapt and adjust quickly also have a big advantage over players who are more reliant on a system and less able to change when their system is no longer working optimally. When teams play several times in a row, there is also typically an increase in tension. Players that are more disciplined and self-controlled are going to have a big advantage over players that let their emotions get away from them.
Kyrie Irving vs. Steph Curry
Because we live in a post-Jordan era where players are judged by championships only, I think we can evaluate Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving in the 7 finals games they played against one another. Kyrie Irving averaged 27 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 2.5 turnovers per game. He shot 47% from the field and 94% from the line. His primary defender was Klay Thompson.
Stephen Curry averaged 23 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 4 turnovers per game. He shot 40% from three and 93% from the line. His primary defender was …..Kyrie Irving? So Kyrie outproduced Steph and had a direct hand in limiting his production (team defensive concepts not withstanding)? There has to be more to this story. Stephen Curry is the two time league MVP and first unanimous MVP in league history.
Game Score was created by John Hollinger to give a rough measure of a player’s productivity for a single game. The scale is similar to that of points scored, (40 is an outstanding performance, 10 is an average performance, etc.). Irving’s score was 19.1, Curry’s was 13.1.
Defensive Rating (available since the 1973-74 season in the NBA) for players is points allowed per 100 possessions. This rating was developed by Dean Oliver, author of Basketball on Paper. Kyrie’s defensive rating (109) was slightly better than Steph’s (111).
Offensive Rating (available since the 1977-78 season in the NBA) is points produced per 100 possessions. Kyrie again comes out on top here, 115 to 101.
Usage percentage is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor. They were just about even at 30.9 for Kyrie and 30.8 for Steph.
Turnover percentage is an estimate of turnovers per 100 plays. Kyrie (9.7%) was almost half of Steph’s (18%).
Block percentage is an estimate of the percentage of opponent two-point field goal attempts blocked by the player while he was on the floor. Their block percentages were just about even, with Kyrie’s (2%) being a little higher than Steph’s (1.7%)
Steal Percentage is an estimate of the percentage of opponent possessions that end with a steal by the player while he was on the floor. Kyrie again comes out on top here (3% to 2%).
Assist percentage is an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor. Steph’s 20.2% beats out Kyrie’s 18.4%.
Total rebound percentage is an estimate of the percentage of available rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor. Steph was decisive here with 8% besting Kyrie’s 5.7%.
Defensive rebound percentage is an estimate of the percentage of available defensive rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor. Steph (12.3%) dominated Kyrie (7.9%) here.
Offensive rebound percentage is an estimate of the percentage of available defensive rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor. They were basically even here with Steph at 3.8% and Kyrie at 3.4%.
Effective field goal percentage adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal. Stephen Curry had the advantage here (.532 vs .516) over Kyrie.
True shooting percentage is a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws. Steph has the advantage here (.580) as opposed to Kyrie (.564)
Kyrie’s Advantage Was Valuing The Ball
Shooting-wise, because of Steph’s prolific 3-point shooting, he ended up shooting better than Kyrie though Kyrie shot a far higher percentage from the field. Steph also ended up being a better rebounder due to the help he gave on the defensive board. Curry was also a bit better assists wise though he and Irving had the same usage rate. This is to be expected as LeBron does most of the distributing for Cleveland. While they were mainly even, Irving was a little better blocks- and steals-wise, making him a better overall defensive player in this series. The biggest difference between the two of them, which was why Kyrie ended up being the better player overall offensively and better player overall, was turnovers. For Steph to have almost double the turnovers percentage-wise that Kyrie had was the real division between the two of them.