Stephen Curry vs. Kyrie Irving
*Photo via Getty Images
Stephen Curry, Point Guard, Golden State Warriors
Postseason Stats: 15 GP, 38.1 MPG, 29.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 6.4 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 3.6 TPG, 46.1 FG%, 43.7 3P%, 82 FT%
Strengths: The first thing anyone notices in Stephen Curry’s game is his prolific shooting. Many current players, former players, experts, and fans have already anointed Curry as the greatest shooter ever. At 44.1 percent, Stephen Curry is already third all-time in career three-point field goal percentage. This season Curry broke his own record for most three-point field goals made in a season. In the Western Conference Finals, Curry broke Reggie Miller’s record for most three-pointers made in a single postseason.
What makes Curry such a special shooter is the fact that he is not just a stand still shooter. Some great shooters like Steve Novak or Matt Bonner need another player to create a shot for them by drawing away attention. Curry can play as a spot-up shooter if needed, but he can do so much more. Curry has the ability to create his own shot and can shoot on the move. Throughout his career Curry has proven that he is not afraid to drive into the paint and finish amongst the trees. Curry has shown the ability to drive past defenders that overplay his shot.
Another aspect of Curry’s game that makes him such a dangerous scorer and shooter is his passing ability. Golden State has done a great job building around Curry by surrounding him with an array of shooters. Teams are unable to double Curry because he is such an excellent passer. Curry always keeps his teammates involved and helps them get going by setting them up for easy buckets. The league has not seen a player with Curry's combination of shooting and passing prowess since Steve Nash.
Weakness: In any sport it is hard to find a weakness in the game’s MVP. Curry is arguably the best shooter, scorer, passer, and ball-handler in the NBA. Curry is also a solid rebounder for his position and has managed to turn himself into an above-average defender. A couple of seasons ago defense could have been considered a weakness for Curry, but now it is only a relative weakness when compared to his incredible offense. In the past, especially in the playoffs, the Warriors have hidden Curry on defense against the opponent’s least threatening offensive player. This is no longer the case due to Curry’s improvements. Curry holds his own as an on the ball defender and finished fourth in steals per game during the regular season. In this year’s postseason Curry has been able to cross match opposing point guards without having to switch onto a weaker player.
Critics of Curry can argue that he has had easy defensive assignments this postseason. After all Curry matched up with two injured point guards in Jrue Holiday and Mike Conley in the first two rounds of the playoffs and in the conference finals Curry faced the combination of Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni who were replacing injured starter Patrick Beverley. Curry may get to catch a break yet again in the finals against Kyrie Irving, who is dealing with knee tendinitis.
Kyrie Irving, Point Guard, Cleveland Cavaliers
Postseason Stats: 12 GP, 35.1 MPG, 18.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 1.6 TPG, 43.6 FG%, 48.1 3P%, 84 FT%
Strengths: Since entering the league as the first pick of the 2011 draft Kyrie Irving has been one of the most unique point guards in the league. Irving has proven he is one of the game's top shooters from long range. Irving shot 41.5 percent from three-point range this season, good for eighth in the league. Irving has been selected to participate in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest in three of his four seasons in the NBA, managing to win the contest in 2012-13.
The other two aspects of Irving’s game that make him such a special player are his ball handling and finishing skills. Irving may be the best ball handler in the league. In almost every game, he plays he manages to embarrass his opponent with an array of dribble moves. Irving has a killer crossover and an extremely fast first step. Even the best defenders in the game have trouble staying in front of Irving and containing him. What makes Irving so hard to guard is that he is so good both close to the rim and behind the arc. Defenders must respect his ability to score from all spots on the floor. Irving is not the high-flying finisher that some other point guards like John Wall, Russell Westbrook, and Derrick Rose (when healthy) are, but he still could be argued as the best finisher in the league for his position. Irving is a strong finisher with both hands around the rim regardless of how many opponents are in the paint to contest his shot. Irving has seemed to master finishing layups at what seem to be impossible angles. Irving has amazing touch around the hoop and is great at absorbing contact.
Weakness: As great as Irving is, his game still has some glaring weaknesses. For his position, Irving is only an average passer and rebounder at best. Neither skill is a true weakness, but Irving could use improvement in both aspects if he wants to truly be one of the best point guards in the NBA.
Irving’s real weakness is his poor play on the defensive end of the floor. As amazing of a player as Irving is, he is just as likely to let his opponent score 30 points as he is to score 30 himself. Top point guards have destroyed Irving in the past, and unfortunately for the Cavs, they are facing the best point guard in the league in Stephen Curry. In any circumstance Irving is a poor defender, and the knee tendinitis he has been facing will only weaken his play on both ends of the floor. A healthy Irving would have trouble guarding Curry, and the current version of Irving stands no chance.
The problem with Golden State is there is no one to hide Irving on. Irving will not be able to chase around Klay Thompson on a balky knee and also cannot deal with his size in the post. Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, and Harrison Barnes are all too big for Irving to guard. Even Golden State’s reserve guards will give Irving trouble. Leandro Barbosa is too quick for an injured Irving, and Shaun Livingston will post up on Irving every time they are matched. The only perimeter player Irving may be able to guard in the half court is defensive ace Andre Iguodala since he does most of his offensive damage on fast breaks.
Advantage: Even if Kyrie Irving was healthy Stephen Curry would have the advantage in this matchup. As good as Irving is there was a reason Curry was named this season's MVP. Irving’s knee could cause him to be a liability in this series. Irving must produce enough offensively in order to offset his negative effect on the team defense. The Cavs will have trouble finding someone for Irving to guard on Golden States deep and talented roster.