So I got myself into a lot of trouble with the guys over at FillingTheLanes last night when we got to talking about Russell Westbrook. We all agreed that the Max contract was too much money for him, but I may have been the only guy on the podcast who just doesn't think Westbrook is "all-star" good. At one point Trill said that he'd probably take 4 or 5 other point guards in a straight-up trade for Westbrook. I opened my big mouth and upped the ante to 7 or 8, and outrage ensued. I come in at about the 56:30 minute mark:
So who would I rather have?
Age matters, so Nash, Calderon and Kidd are not on the list, but Irving and Rubio are. I got in trouble with Chalmers, and you know what, I'm going to be a good sport here, and admit to the guys that I was wrong about him; the last couple of years he was really just an average PG and he's probably just on a hot streak this season and I let it get to my head (but if his numbers look like this at year's end we're revisiting this).
But for the rest of this list, I have to say, I'm not sure what everyone's upset about. I've got Lowry, who's basically keeping the Rockets single-handedly relevant, Paul, who's basically an MVP-caliber player, Rose, who is actually an MVP, Rondo, who routinely puts up insane numbers, Rubio (quick aside on Rubio among all point guards he's 2nd in assists, 6th in rebounding, in a virtual 4-way tie for 2nd in steals), and Irving, who everyone (but me) seems to think deserves the rookie of the year award.
But wait, there's more! If age matters, then so does salary, right! The real rub is that if I were a GM, I would much rather pay $4-$6 million per year for an average/decent point guard than $17 million per year for Westbrook. It's not even close. The point guards I would pay $15+ million for are named Rose and Paul. Since average/competent big men are overpriced (See Hilario, Nene; Jordan, DeAndre, etc) and average/competent guards are not, it just does not make sense to dole out max money to guards unless they are MVP-caliber players. Westbrook has never been anywhere close to that level of play, and doling out max money for potential is just silliness. And if I'd rather pay $4 million than $17 million? Well, this is why Mario Cahalmers came up. I can probably get Chalmers for $5 million :P. Westbrook is better than Chalmers, absolutely. Westbrook is nowhere ****ing near $12 million dollars better than Chalmers. $12 million is a good big man!
In two years time, James Harden will want $10 million. And someone will pay him that much. Serge Ibaka will want $15 million. And lots of teams will pay him that much. What does OKC do then? Because neither are going to be replacable with the mid-level exception.
And before anyone asks me why I didn't backpedal and say that last night, I'll say....have you ever tried to get a word in edgewise with these guys? Shizznits.
Rubio vs. Irving
The other thing that got me in trouble is when I said that Rubio, so far, is the rookie of the year, ahead of Irving. This got howls. It's the same old story, points per game trumps everything. And don't even get me started on Truehoop saying that Irving's rookie year is better than Chris Paul's. I won't waste time on that because Devin Digham already did a great job on that at the Wages of Wins Journal:
Stat* Chris Paul Kyrie Irving Average* PG PTS 21.5 30.0 19.5 FGA 16.2 23.3 16.5 FTA 7.9 6.7 4.5 TS% 54.6 57.1 52.9 TRB 6.8 6.0 4.8 STL 3.0 1.4 2.0 TOV 3.1 5.9 3.7 Net Poss 6.7 1.6 3.1 AST 10.4 8.9 8.3 BLK 0.1 1.0 0.3 PF 3.7 4.4 3.3
* Stats are per 48 minutes where applicable; average PG numbers from the 2011-12 season
Irving is certainly scoring well — he’s taking almost seven more field goal attempts and more than two more free throw attempts than the average point guard. Not only that, he’s also making these shots at a very good rate. But another important part of basketball is retaining possession of the ball, and it’s something that Irving has struggled with so far this season. Irving’s net possessions (calculated by adding rebounds and steals and subtracting turnovers) are about half the mark of an average point guard. This is mostly driven by his large number of turnovers. Irving is also below average with respect to steals and fouls.
Look closely: Paul had half the turnovers and twice the steals that Irving had, and got to the line more with fewer shot attempts, while doling out more assists. And for good measure, he didn't foul as often. Irving is having a good rookie season, but Paul was already at an all-star level in his rookie season.
But back to the point at hand: is Rubio better than Irving? Let's compare them so far:
Someone on twitter claimed my whole story was about passing. Well, as we can see, Irving is a better scorer than Rubio, but only midly. Note that Rubio gets to the line 5 times on 13 shots vs. Irving's 7 times on 23 shots. But we're still in the realm of small sample sizes when it comes to shooting; field goal percentage is something where a couple of bad (or good) games can skew things wildly at this point in the season (for example, two games ago Rubio's FG% was 47% and his TS% flirted with 60%). How do they compare on non-shooting measures, which have a lot less variance?
So far, Rubio is a better rebounder, much better at assisting, turns the ball over less, fouls less, and oh, yeah, he's a bloody thief with 3.5 steals per 48 (a virtual tie with Chris Paul, Tony Allen, Rodrique Beaubois and Mike Conley for 2nd in the league).
Again, Irving is good. I think he'll become a star point guard. But 14 games into this season, I think Rubio is better. And I don't feel like this should be really controversial.