All statistics are updated as of January 22nd, 2019. All statistics are gathered via NBA.com/stats
Kyrie Irving is the most gifted ball handler that the game of basketball has ever seen and one of the most electrifying scorers in the league today. The only problem with Uncle Drew's unparalleled ability of controlling the rock is that he doesn't get enough opportunities to showcase his talent.
The team that he runs point guard for, the Boston Celtics, have been at the center of the NBA's drama this season due to having too much depth on their roster, which is a problem that most teams would kill to have (*cough cough* Houston). This overwhelming amount of talent on the Celtics roster has been a direct influence toward Kyrie receiving far less touches than the amount he was accustomed to during his time in Cleveland, and has also had a negative impact towards Boston's even younger up-and-coming studs.
After reaching Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, young potential star players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been asked to play smaller roles, and less minutes, than the ones they had prior to Kyrie and Gordon Hayward's returns from injury. This rumored turmoil in the Celtic locker room is a result of clashing egos, and mismanaged expectations.
Kyrie's situation in Boston is like if Michael B. Jordan was cast in a movie starring Dave Franco, Chadwick Boseman, and Mahershala Ali. Instead of being the center of attention on the screen for an hour and a half, he's only in the spotlight for between 20-45 minutes. That's not enough time for Kyrie to embarrass the defense with the countless amount of tricks up his shooting sleeve.
If only there was an individual example of a team that had the antithesis of the Celtics's issue; a lack of depth in talent surrounding a star player who also has an unbelievable handle on not just the basketball itself, but the entire game surrounding him...
OH FUCK, THERE TOTALLY IS THAT GUY. HOW COULD I BE SO IGNORANT?
His name is James Harden, but you may know him as The Beard, the Master of Isolation, the Stepback Connoisseur, the Foul Line's #1 Real Estate Agent, the Eurostep Finesser, or the Lethal Lefty. The reigning MVP has demonstrated that a team can be successful when they decide to rely on the broad shoulders of their franchise's superstar.
Harden has a usage rate of 38.8% (the usage rate metric is utilized to determine how often the ball is in an individual player's hands during his time on the floor), while Kyrie Irving only has a usage rate of 28.1%. This discrepancy in Harden and Kyrie's time controlling the flow of the game is an example of how the Rockets rely on Harden much more than the Celtics rely on Irving, but maybe that shouldn't be the case considering how effective Kyrie is with the ball in his hands.
Harden is having one of the most notable shooting and ball handling seasons of all-time, but Kyrie's statistics show that he may be even more effective with the ball in his hands than the reigning MVP is. Harden has a turnover ratio of 13.3 in comparison to Kyrie's 9.3, and Kyrie is also more effective shooting the ball with an EFG% of 57.3 against Harden's 54.5. Below is a table that showcases the two All-NBA players's statistics throughout the first half of the season.
These statistics demonstrate that if Kyrie were shooting the rock at the same rate that Harden is, he may be even more deadly than Harden is now. This is all hypothetical, of course, because Kyrie doesn't have near the physical build that Harden does. The Beard is built for this kind of gameplay, his physicality and balance allow him to take a beating when he attacks the rim in order to generate layups, lobs, or free throw attempts. Kyrie is a special breed regarding his body, but just having extraordinary balance isn't enough to carry a franchise's weight on his shoulders.
In each of their last three games, these are what the two super-guard's stats are looking like:
- Kyrie: 32 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 8.7 APG, and 3 steals on 61/58/76.5 shooting splits
- Harden: 47.7 PPG, 8 RPG, 5 APG, and 2 steals on 46.7/37.3/87 shooting splits
Their usage rates in those combined six games? Harden at 41.8% and Kyrie at only 29.6%. Here's the best part though, Kyrie is averaging only 19.7 FGA in those three games, while Harden is taking THIRTY. T H I R T Y. Harden is in real-life "everybody on my pick-up team fucking sucks except for me, but I don't feel like coming off the court any time soon, so I'm just gonna ball the fuck out until I'm too tired to keep playing any longer," mode.
The only issue with that method of Hero Ball is that it allows the defense to solely concentrate on him instead of the rest of the Rockets mob. This has led to Harden's +/- being -6.7 in the last three games in which the Rockets have gone 1-2 and probably should've gone 0-3 considering their miraculous comeback against the Lakers, while Kyrie's is an impressively positive +11.3 during the Celtics's four game win streak.
Harden may not have a choice but to go ape shit on the Rockets in order to shoulder them to a top-6 seed in the West, but Kyrie needs to do his best Harden impression if the Celtics want to make significant strides throughout the rest of the season in order to gain momentum going into the playoffs. When the Celtics admit that this is Kyrie's team as much as Houston is Harden's, they're capable of beating any team in the league, including the Warriors, in a 7 game series.