Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups, an all-time great point guard himself, went a step further along similar lines.
Billups, via Nick Friedell of ESPN:
“Kyrie is just, he’s a wizard, man,” Billups said before the Blazers’ 114-108 win over the Nets on Monday night. “He’s must-see TV. I personally think, as somebody that played the position, I think Kyrie’s the most skilled player that’s ever played that position. Just straight skill. Nothing else. Just straight skill. I think he’s the best that I’ve ever seen at the position, skill-wise. So, obviously, he gives you a ton when he’s playing.”
“His shot-making is incredible,” Billups said. “He’s a better passer than people give him credit for. He’s obviously a willing teammate. He’s not just all about Kyrie. He passes the ball. He’s a champion. He brings championship pedigree to the table. I think he hit maybe the biggest shot that I ever seen in NBA Finals history, that I seen.
This is somewhat a backhanded compliment (though I don’t believe deliberately by Billups). Irving might be the most-skilled point guard of all-time. But nobody thinks he’s the best point guard of all-time.
Irving is a savant individual offensive creator. His ball-handling is immaculate. He can get to the rim and finish with great balance and creativity. His shooting stroke is pure – from mid-range and distance, including off the dribble. It can feel like he’s immune to opposing defenses. Those are highly important skills, and Irving excels at them.
But his defensive intensity is inconsistent, at best. Even if an underrated passer, as Billups contends, Irving still isn’t an exceptional passer. He lacks the off-ball skills of, say, Stephen Curry, who’s currently the NBA’s actual best point guard.
Still, Irving’s skill set is special. It’s good to celebrate that.
Does Billups’ specific claim hold true, though?
The best point guard in NBA history, Magic Johnson gets docked in this discussion for his subpar 3-point shooting. But his court vision, pinpoint passing and leadership are skills, too. Steve Nash was also a far better distributor than Irving while still shooting exceptionally well (though not consistently getting his shot off against tight defenders like Irving does). Curry is not only a tremendous off-ball player with elite endurance, he’s the best shooter of all-time and a great teammate.
Ultimately, it’s in the eye of the beholder which skills count toward “most skilled.” Irving shines at the most commonly cited skills. Perhaps, no point guard would score better in a game of 1-on-1.
But there’s more to NBA basketball.