The other day, Sports Illustrated released a list of the top 100 players featuring just the players ranked 100-51. The list featured two Cavaliers in J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson.
On Wednesday, SI ranked players from 50-11 and Kyrie Irving fell in that group. Irving, did not even crack the top 20, however, as SI ranked him 25th. This year’s rank is actually a drop from last year’s 23rd best overall rank. Here’s what SI’s Ben Golliver had to say:
This might feel low for Irving, 24, whose scintillating play as LeBron’s sidekick down the stretch of the Finals was crucial in ending Cleveland’s championship drought. Irving’s defenders will rightfully argue that his advanced scoring ability, remarkable creativity, and fearlessness in pressure situations are unmatched by many of the names above him on this list. But Irving (19.6 PPG, 4.7 APG, 3 RPG) nevertheless falls short in a few meaningful ways that keep him from higher placement among his star colleagues. Most obviously, there’s the matter of his defensive impact and attentiveness, which trail far behind the elite players at his position. Past that, there are reasonable questions as to how well his game would transfer to a team that isn’t captained by James: Irving’s shortcomings as an offense-initiator were on full display in Cleveland before James’s 2014 return, and they popped up again at the Rio Olympics, even when he was surrounded by talent on all sides. There’s also the matter of his health and durability: Irving has missed 22% of his team’s games during his five-year career, and he’s most effective when he’s playing at breakneck speed, even if that means courting risk. While James and the Cavaliers have done a masterful job constructing a role for Irving and while he deserves full credit for rising to the occasion during the playoffs, there’s a nagging sense that the three-time All-Star would flounder a bit if asked to lead his own show. (Last year: No. 23)
+ Proud owner of one of the greatest shots in NBA Finals history, as he sank a contested, step-back, go-ahead three-pointer in the final minute of Game 7
+ Joined Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook as the only under-25 players to score 40+ points in a Finals game since 2000
– The advanced numbers aren’t kind to his defense. At all. He ranked in the 38% percentile in overall defense per Synergy Sports and he ranked an eye-popping 76th among point guards in Defensive Real Plus Minus (in the same range as hopeless matadors like D’Angelo Russell and Trey Burke)
– A season-ending knee injury sustained during the 2015 Finals caused him to miss Cleveland’s first 24 games of 2015-16
Ahead of Irving is Carmelo Anthony at 24, Karl-Anthony Towns at 23, Marc Gasol at 22, Damian Lillard at 21, DeAndre Jordan at 20, Klay Thompson at 19, Al Horford at 18, John Wall at 17, Jimmy Butler at 16, and Paul Millsap at 15. Although Kyrie Irving did miss a big chunk of the season last year and had statistical dropoffs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage, fans definitely feel like Irving’s incredible playoff performance was more than enough to throw him into the top 20. He put up 25.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.7 steals on 48% shooting and 44% from downtown in 21 postseason games that saw the Cavs bring home the first NBA title to Cleveland.
What do you think, Cavs Nation? Did Irving get snubbed by being ranked 25? Or is a proper ranking coming off the year that he had?