How not to compare players starring Kyrie Irving and LeBron James

Thanks to Patrick (@NBAGeek) spotting this Tweet for Chris Palmer(@ESPNChrisPalmer)

  • Rookie numbers: Kyrie Irving 16.8 ppg, 4.9 apg, 3.2 rpg, 49% FG, 40% 3FG; LeBron 20.9/5.5/5.9, 41% FG, 29% 3FG. Pretty close.

When comparing players people like going to the numbers. The issue is that the numbers when used improperly may not be helpful. Let’s examine the issue above. Luckily a few people responded to the Tweet and I get to use them to help!

Per game is an iffy stat. Turns out players play different minutes per game

Two readers spotted this one immediately Imag Shahmiri(@djsweatydank) observed this

Irving also playing way less minutes than LeBron did his rookie year

Coach Benjamin (@Blizyy) also chimed in with:

LeBron also played about 35 mins. Kyrie only gets 25 a game.

Coach B. actually underestimated both players just a bit. So far Kyrie Irving is getting about 27.9 minutes per game. Compare this with LeBron’s rookie season where he got 39.5 minutes per game! So with 40% more playing time LeBron scored 25% more points and this is somehow similar? When comparing two players using per-game can definitely be iffy if you don’t at least acknowledge a difference in minutes per game and also…

Players play different positions in the NBA

Asad Video (@AsadVIDEO) noticed this:

Why are u comparing a PG to a F ?

This is something odd that a lot of stats don’t like to account for (the Wins Produced formula actually does account for it though by the way) In the NBA players play different positions. This means their stat responsibilities are different. Is the fact that Bron and Irving are “close” in assists per game a good thing? In fact most people notice this immediately. When we note say that Gasol has a better shooting percentage than Kobe Bryant the reason (of course) is that Kobe plays on the perimeter and takes harder shots. Now one may question why the big guy close to the hoop doesn’t shoot more. . . but it’s a valid point. Different positions cover different parts of the floor and are expected to do different things. So that brings us to…

An actual comparison

Now I’ll give you that it’s hard to do a lot in a tweet. 140 characters isn’t a lot. Here’s two things you can do though.

1. Go to the NBA Geek’s Comparion Engine. Type in the two players you want (for the same season only or career currently) get the url and paste it into twitter.

2. Go to Basketball Reference’s Player Comparison Finder. Find the players and seasons you want. Copy and paste the url into twitter.

Both of these let people see a lot of analysis quickly and prevent you from killing your Twitter message trying to cram in all the stats you can.

Both of these do per minute analysis so you’re golden. And  if you’re doing a blog post you can more in depth, which I’ll be doing thanks to the NBA Geek’s comparison engine. (Note I made the table by hand, but  the comparison engine does generate some slick ones automatically)

Rookie Bron vs. Rookie Irving comparison (per 48 minute stats unless noted)
Stat Kyrie Irving* Ave. 2012 PG* LeBron James Ave. 2004 SF
 WP48 0.101 0.099 0.080 0.099
 PTS 28.9 19.4  25.4 19.8
 DRB 4.3 3.9  5.1 5.6
 ORB 1.3 0.9  1.5 2.1
 AST 8.5 8.2  7.1 3.5
 TO 6.0 3.7  4.2 2.8
 BLK 0.9 0.3  0.9 0.8
 STL 1.2 1.9  2.0 1.7
 PF 4.4 3.3  2.3 4.0
 2FG% 52% 46.2%  43.8% 45.9%
 3FG% 40.4% 34.6%  29.0% 35.4%
 FT% 82.0% 81.2%  75.4% 77.3%
 TS% 58.2% 52.5%  48.8% 52.3%
 FGA 22.1 16.5  22.9 16.7
 3FGA 4.8 4.7  3.3 3.7
 FTA 6.2 4.4  7.1 5.1
 MPG 27.9 27.0 39.5 21.0
*Numbers through January 26th 2012

It’s a bit of work but when we break apart Irving and Bron’s rookie games there are some similarites. Basically both players took roughly the same number of shots per minute. And it turns out a 2004 SF was actually expected to shoot about as well as a 2012 PG so that comparison is apt. Except when we notice that factoring it to per-minute instead of per game shows up that Irving is an amazing shooter whereas LeBron was a terrible shooter as a rookie.

The other similar stats? Well LeBron being close in assists actually meant Bron was an amazing passer at the SF position whereas Irving is only average as a PG. Rebounds? Other way around, Irving is a good rebounder as a guard, LeBron was a bad rebounder as a forward.

Finally it’s pretty obvious that their shooting percentages were not similar in the slightest. In fact if Irving were getting the minutes LeBron did as a rookie he’d be outscoring LeBron by around four points a game. In fact the end conclusion from all of this to me is.

  • Irving needs to be more careful with the ball (less fouls and turnovers) and
  • Irving needs to play more
  • And Irving needs to shoot more, especially from 3 (see we encourage it!)

Comparing him to LeBron as a rookie is fun given the liklihood they’ll both have the Rookie of the Year hardware on their mantel and both played for Cleveland. If you’re going to do such comparisons though, please do them right.


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