Better fit for the Lakers: Kyrie or Kemba?

NBA Free Agency is one week away! Over the next week, the NBA world will be all in on the speculation of which stars go where. The Los Angeles Lakers have been talked about as one of the biggest free agent destinations all season long, but has become even more attractive after the team acquired Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans. 

Since the acquisition of Davis, the Lakers have had their sights set on adding a third star to the mix. With a glaring hole at PG, two of their biggest targets this offseason will be Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker.

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Kemba Walker” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Both Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker are star PGs in the NBA, meaning there’s absolutely no chance the Lakers sign both of them. I don’t think they intend to even attempt to do so, but that makes the decision of who to sign that much more important.

We all know the Lakers are trying to bring a championship back to their city. In order to do so, they’ll have to make all the right moves this offseason. With Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker being their top targets, this decision is their biggest one, and they have to get it right.

With that in mind, which PG would bring the Lakers closer to a championship? Who’s the better fit next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis?

In order to answer these questions, I’m going to break down five categories of skills I believe the Lakers need from their third star. I’ll then break down which of these two star free agent PGs would be the better fit.

 

1. Health

Even with LeBron James leading the way, the Lakers missed the playoffs last season. A huge part of that was because of injuries. The biggest injury was to LeBron James, who missed a significant portion of the season. All together, LeBron missed 27 games, which was by far the most he’s missed in his career.

LeBron will come back healthy this season, and the Lakers have Anthony Davis now, but Davis isn’t necessarily the most reliable player when it comes to availability. Last season he only played in 56 games. Not all of those games were because of injury, but he still has an injury history we shouldn’t ignore. Prior to this most recent season, Davis played in 75 games two seasons in a row. That’s pretty good, but before those two seasons, Davis didn’t play in more than 68 games during a season.

With an injury history to Davis, the Lakers need a third star who will be available if Anthony Davis is not.

This one’s easy to evaluate, because Kyrie and Kemba came into the league during the same year. Since these two were drafted in 2011, Irving has played 508 games and Walker has played 605. Kemba Walker has played 97 more games than Kyrie Irving in the same amount of years. Walker has never played less than 62 games in his NBA career. Irving has played less than 60 games three times.

If the Lakers are looking for the guy with a greater chance to be available, Kemba Walker is their guy.

Advantage: Kemba Walker

 

2. Pure scoring ability

For this skill, we’re going to take a look at the scoring stats for both players.

  • Irving has career averages of 46.5 FG%, 39.0 3PT%, 49.8 2PT%, 87.5 FT% and 22.2 PPG.
  • Walker has career averages of 43.4 FG%, 35.7 3PT%, 45.2 2PT%, 83.5 FT% and 19.8 PPG.

Based on their career numbers, Kyrie Irving has the advantage as a scorer. Irving’s career numbers are better than Walker’s in every shooting category. Both players are great scorers, but Irving seems to be just one level above Walker.

We’ve seen several times throughout his career that Irving can score at will when he wishes to do so. We’ve seen Irving make big shot after big shot, even in the biggest moments. I’m not saying Walker hasn’t or can’t do this, but Irving’s numbers speak for themselves.

Advantage: Kyrie Irving

 

3. Defense

Kyrie Irving has always been known as a guy who’s not great on the defensive end. Kemba Walker also isn’t one of the better defenders at the PG position. Neither of these guys are great defenders, but does one of them hold an advantage? For this skill, I’m going to be looking at steals, blocks and defensive rebounds. Yes, rebounds count as defense. Let’s compare career averages.

  • Kyrie Irving: 1.3 steals, 0.3 blocks and 2.9 defensive rebounds.
  • Kemba Walker: 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks and 3.3 defensive rebounds.

The defensive numbers for Irving and Walker are pretty much identical. Neither guy has been known for their defense during their time in the league. With these career numbers, neither guy has the advantage here.

No Advantage

 

4. Assists

This skill is interesting. Kyrie Irving has been known as a ball hog type player for much of his career, while Kemba Walker hasn’t ever had that type of reputation. It’s funny Irving gets that type of reputation, because he has a better career average in assists than Walker does.

Irving’s career assist number is 5.7 per game. Walker’s career assist number is 5.5 per game. Both guys are in the same general area when it comes to this category. Walker has had one season in which he averaged less than five assists per game, which came in his rookie season. Irving has also had just one season in which he averaged less than five assists per game, which came in the 15-16 season.

When it comes to seasons in which these two have had more than six assists, Walker has one and Irving has two. Neither of these guys are considered the premier passers in game, but both are more than capable of creating for their team.

The reason this skill is important for the Lakers to consider, is because LeBron James can’t be the only guy who creates shots for his teammates. Anthony Davis can create shots from the post, but he’s not going to be the primary shot creator. When LeBron isn’t on the floor, the Lakers will need a guy who can create shots. Lucky for them, both of these guys are capable of doing the job.

No Advantage

 

5. Ability to elevate a team

This is perhaps the most important skill of them all. LeBron James and Anthony Davis aren’t going to be able to be on the floor at all times. When they’re not on the floor, the Lakers need a guy who can elevate the players around him.

Kyrie Irving has never really been a guy who can elevate his team. Before LeBron James returned to Cleveland, Kyrie Irving never made the playoffs. Granted, he was still a very young player, but he never even came close to a playoff appearance until LeBron came back.

Since going to Boston, Irving has taken the Celtics to the playoffs both years. However, he seemed to be more of a hassle for them rather than a guy to elevate them. During his first playoff appearance with the Celtics, Irving was injured. The Celtics, without Irving, gave LeBron James a heck of a time in the Eastern Conference Finals. When Kyrie was playing in his second playoff appearance with the Celtics, they didn’t even make it close to the Eastern Conference Finals.

On the other side, Kemba Walker has only been to the playoffs twice in his career. Both times he was in the playoffs, his team lost in the first round. That doesn’t look great when talking about elevating a team, but we have to consider how well those teams would have done without him.

We just talked about how the Celtics seemed to be better when Irving was out. That’s not the case with Walker and the Hornets. Without Kemba Walker, the Hornets would likely be one of the worst teams in the league. They wouldn’t be anywhere near the playoffs. It’s only because of Walker that the Hornets are anywhere near relevant. It’s not his fault the Hornets have failed to put players around him.

I can only imagine how much Walker could elevate a team when he has legit players to help him out.

Advantage: Kemba Walker

 

Recap

Kemba Walker got the advantage in two categories, while Irving got the advantage in just one. The other two categories were ruled no advantage. Therefore, Kemba Walker gets the nod as the PG who’d be a better fit for the Lakers.

I believe his ability to stay healthy and elevate a team outweigh Irving’s ability to score. Walker isn’t that far behind Irving in that category anyway. I believe that if the Lakers are going to pursue one of these guys, it should be Kemba Walker.

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