Both Kyrie Irving and Victor Oladipo are experiencing fantastic seasons, setting their respective teams up for playoff runs in a few months. The common consensus among NBA fans is that Irving is at least one tier above Oladipo (perhaps two). Are the players really that far apart, though? Let’s take a look at the numbers.
Kyrie Irving is a phenomenal talent. The same goes for Victor Oladipo. If the NBA season ended today, Irving’s Celtics would be the two seed in the Eastern Conference and Oladipo’s Pacers would be the five seed. Both players are crucial to the success of their teams. In their first year away from the shadows of superior players, Irving and Oladipo have emerged as leaders. What a difference a year makes. Or, does it? Let’s compare Irving and Oladipo a year ago.
By the numbers:
|Defensive WS||11th NBA||168th NBA||Oladipo||157 spots|
Kyrie Irving’s offensive game was just head and shoulders above that of Victor Oladipo last season. Whether or not we can attribute some (or most) of Oladipo’s shortcomings to playing with Russell Westbrook remains to be seen. Nonetheless, Irving was the superior offensive player in 2016-17. He averaged 9.3 more points per game than Oladipo and recorded just over three more assists per contest than Oladpio as well. Irving also gets a decent edge in both field goal percentage and three-point percentage. His offensive game was amazing.
Defense is where Oladipo was better than Irving a year ago. Long known as a promising and willing defender finishing 11th in the league, in defensive win shares was no surprise. For Irving, who was known as a decent defender when he tried, 168th was a bit of a surprise. Not a pleasant one, but still a surprise nonetheless.
It’s not difficult to see Irving was still a much better player than Oladipo in 2016-17. Although it’s odd their steal and block averages were identical, that’s about it. All of that changed when Irving was traded to Boston and Oladipo was shipped to Indiana.
|Defensive WS||17th NBA||33rd NBA||Oladipo||16 spots|
These numbers are much closer. Not only did Oladipo close the gap in points and assists to less than one per game, but he also widened his rebound lead over Irving. He left Irving in the dust in steals and blocks. Even the field goal percentages are nearly identical. This isn’t due to Irving regressing, because he hasn’t (perhaps ever so slightly). These numbers are on the chart because of the breakout of Victor Oladipo. Being the leader of a team has helped him tap into the immense potential he flashed when he was drafted second overall in the 2013 NBA draft.
To the credit of Irving, though, his defensive metrics have vastly improved. He’s not just a respectable defender now, but a good one. Oladipo remains among the top defensive guards in the NBA but due to his offensive numbers skyrocketing, he deserves this comparison. What does this mean, though?
Why does it matter?
The latest edition of NBA.com’s KIA MVP Ladder features Kyrie Irving occupying the sixth spot on the list. Is it fair to rank Irving ahead of the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and Jimmy Butler? Most likely. Giannis Antetokounmpo? Debatable. The only issue with the list is: where is Victor Oladipo? Averaging nearly the same exact stats as Irving and leading a subpar supporting cast to a 33-25 start should be deserving of at least a spot on the list’s “and five more” section.
I’m not here to tell you Victor Oladipo is better than Kyrie Irving. I’m not here to tell you they’re the same player. I just wanted to point out that last year, Oladipo vs. Irving wasn’t remotely close to being a debate. If both players finish this season on their respective trajectories, though, it’s time to entertain the idea of a conversation. The league’s most-improved player has improved more than enough to gain top-15 MVP consideration – it’s time he receives the recognition he deserves.