When it comes to the All-NBA teams, essentially the top six guards, forwards, and top three centers are recognized for their regular season campaigns — at the very least, that’s how it’s supposed to be. That didn’t happen this year, because Wizards guard John Wall once again failed to be named to any of the three All-NBA teams.
Typically when fans complain about a player they think is snubbed in any selection process, the first response that gets tossed around is “Don’t argue [insert alleged snubbed player here] got snubbed unless you’re willing to say who should be replaced.”
My solution is easy: get Kyrie Irving ALL the way out of here.
It’s only fair to preface my case by acknowledging that Kyrie Irving is one heck of a player who had himself a great year. He grew as a leader and put up some ridiculous performances, including his masterpiece of a 57-point game against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. Basically, just because I feel like Wall was more deserving of a spot, doesn’t mean Kyrie didn’t perform at a high level. Regardless, Wall was better than Irving in virtually every area this year, and should’ve been rewarded for his great play.
We all know Kyrie Irving is one of the NBA’s very best offensive players. Former NBA greats like Isiah Thomas and Allen Iverson have praised Irving’s ball-handling ability; combine that with his shooting prowess (43.6% FG outside of 15 feet this season) and his ability to finish acrobatic shots at the rim (56.3% inside of 6 feet), and there’s no wonder he’s nearly unguardable in isolation when he’s on (1.09 PPP in isolation, 3rd in the NBA among players with at least 50 isolation possessions).
As it related to the Irving-Wall comparison this year, we know Irving was the more prolific scorer (21.7 ppg to Wall’s 17.6 ppg) and more efficient scorer (46.8% FG and 41.5% 3PT for Irving, 44.5% FG and 30% 3PT for Wall). What gets overlooked, however, is the fact that Wall actually accounted for more points than Irving thanks to his superior playmaking ability.
Wall finished second in the NBA in assists per game with 10, while Irving only averaged 5.2, which was second on his team to LeBron James’ 7.4 apg. Wall accounted for 23.1 ppg via assist, which was third in the NBA; Irving accounted for 12.5 ppg via assist. If you add their ppg and their ppg via assist, Wall accounted for 40.7 ppg, while Irving accounted for 34.2 ppg — a 6.5 ppg difference.
This shouldn’t even be a debatable point, but I’ll go with it.
Kyrie Irving showed some improvement defensively this year, especially with his effort. However, he still was poor in pick-and-roll situations and struggled with quicker guards, which led to him still being hid quite a bit defensively. Irving averaged 1.5 spg for the third straight year, but opposing players shot 46.6% from the field when guarded by Irving, 2.9% above their average. In addition to that, via Basketball Reference, the Cavs’ defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) was actually 1.1 points better with Irving OFF the court.
As for John Wall, he averaged 1.7 spg, which was 4th among PGs. Opponents only shot 42.7% from the field when guarded by Wall; that’s 0.5% lower than their average, and also 3.9% better (lower) than Kyrie Irving’s mark. The Wizards gave up 101.5 points per 100 possessions with Wall on the court, but that number ballooned to 108.4 with Wall on the bench, showcasing his importance to the Wizards defense. If that wasn’t enough, Wall was named to the All-Defensive second team this year — at least they got that much right.
Context is important here, because these are two different players with different roles on their teams. Kyrie Irving is a point guard, but he’s actually more of a designated scorer alongside LeBron James, who typically initiates the offense. Irving doesn’t have the responsibility that Wall does as the best player on his team, but that obviously didn’t stop Irving from knocking down plenty of big shots late in games and being a crucial part of Cleveland’s overall success.
However, being a crucial part of your team’s success is a little bit different than being the main reason your team is successful. Wall is THE engine to Washington’s success. He’s the primary ball-handler, sets the tempo with his blazing speed and penetration ability, which opened up shooters like Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce, and Rasual Butler. As mentioned earlier, Wall made Washington’s defense nearly seven points better when he was on the court; Washington’s offense was also 5.4 points better with Wall on the floor, leading the action.
Again, nobody is, nor should they be arguing that Kyrie Irving isn’t a great player, because he is. However, there’s just no plausible reason that he should’ve made the All-NBA Third team over John Wall. Wall accounted for more points offensively, played way better on defense, all while playing a bigger part of his team’s success than Irving did to his.
I demand a mulligan!