All That Glitters: Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, and Why Many NBA Fans Aren't As Smart As They Think

With the NBA Trade Deadline rapidly approaching, there has, understandably, been a lot of discussion about what the Suns will do at the trade deadline. It's off the table now, but the discussion about the possibility of a Kyrie Irving for Chris Paul trade is probably one of the most infuriating things I've ever seen perpetuated, at least with regards to the idea that that swap, in itself, would be some kind of incredible "win now" move, which would be funny if it weren't so sad. Kyrie Irving is an absolutely perfect example of why modern NBA fandom frequently misses the forest for the trees, why a lot of people are way too fixated on highlight plays and counting stats, and why frankly, even if his career ended tomorrow, CP3 would be one of the most underappreciated players in the history of the NBA.

Let me just get this out of the way now: I'm going to do my absolute best to ignore any of Kyrie's off the court garbage. I can't entirely, but I'm going to do my best to avoid talking vaccines or antisemitism (even though I don't think those things should be ignored just Kyrie is putting a ball in a hoop), but even talking just basketball, it's actually pretty shocking (even I was surprised to be honest) how much of a "meh" trade it would be.

I'll be the first person to admit that Chris Paul has slowed down a good bit in one category and one category alone: shooting. His defense has also suffered a bit, perhaps, but the shooting and scoring are the most notable dropoffs. But even there, Kyrie is only shooting 5% better from the field on admittedly a little over two times as many attempts. Kyrie is scoring 27.1 PPG on a 56.5% eFG%. That's pretty spectacular scoring production, admittedly. However, CP3, for all the narratives of his scoring going down the toilet, is averaging 13.8 PPG on a 51.5% eFG%, and comfortably eclipses Kyrie in assists, netting 8.6 APG vs. Kyrie's 5.3. Why does this matter? Because when the Suns are actually healthy, they literally don't need Chris Paul to score. They need him to do exactly what he does, which is orchestrate the offense and help set the table for other guys. CP3 is averaging a career low 10.9 FGA per game, which pretty clearly demonstrates that for the most part, he doesn't take many shots knowing they're not hitting. Kyrie, on the other hand, as established, takes over two times as many shots per game. "But SF!" I hear some of you saying, "What does it matter if he's hitting the shots?" The reason it matters is, the entire Suns offense is predicated around multiple guys having the ability to take over, which by its very nature is the entire reason why the starting five when it's fully intact is so incredibly difficult to defend against. I have heard so many Suns fans lament Deandre Ayton getting frozen out of games by the CP3/Booker backcourt. Do any of you seriously think that would be BETTER with Kyrie Irving of all people running the point?

The advanced stats don't exactly show a huge gulf, either. This season, the season where CP3 is apparently an albatross to some people, Chris is posting a 17.5 PER and 3.5 WS. Kyrie Irving, the would-be Superman savior of the Phoenix Suns season? He's posting a 21.9 PER and a 4.5 WS. Also, the Nets as of this writing have a 32-22 record, while the Suns sit at 30-26. Sure, Kyrie has been holding his own I suppose, but he hasn't exactly been singlehandedly carrying the Nets to some insane level of success, now has he? The Nets were a LITTLE better off than the Suns record-wise before the Kyrie trade. Considering how utterly ravaged the Suns have been by injury and unprofessional garbage (looking at you, Jae) that's not exactly a ringing endorsement. Oh yeah, and there's the whole "in the extremely brief time the Suns have been fully healthy they've posted a net rating that'd put them right near the top of the league" thing. But y'know, Chris had nothing to do with that, surely.

Then there's the whole idea of Kyrie giving the Suns a better chance in the playoffs. Here's the ugly truth about Kyrie Irving on that front. When not playing with LeBron James, who is quite possibly at worst the second greatest player ever, Kyrie has been on a team that made it to the Conference Finals once. Here's the problem though: he wasn't playing for Boston during that run. He was inactive. When he's been active, the teams have gotten bounced in, at best, the conference semis, in an overall weaker conference. And you can't tell me Kyrie hasn't had help. In Boston he had Tatum and Brown to play alongside him, and with Brooklyn, we all know. He's had KD, and however briefly, James Harden. I think everybody has the image of Kyrie hitting the dagger 3 in the Finals to effectively complete the 3-1 comeback against the Warriors and secure Kyrie's one and to date only Championship. But again, that was with a probably late-prime LeBron and a quite underrated Kevin Love playing with him. Of course Kyrie deserves credit; it's probably one of the most iconic shots in NBA history. But in all honesty, Kyrie's postseason track record is, if anything, WORSE than Chris's when you take out the seasons playing next to the NBA's de facto cheat code of the last 2 decades or so in LeBron James. Sure, Father Time (and god awful roster construction) seems to be chasing down LeBron too, but I would absolutely bet you money that if Chris had played on those Cleveland teams or even the Boston or Brooklyn ones that he'd have at least one ring. Probably more, if you consider how much "worse" Chris has been this season.

Listen, let me be clear. Kyrie deserves the All-Star nod he got this year. Obviously, Chris isn't an All-Star this season. I'm a fan of his, I'm not totally delusional. But CP3 is a convenient scapegoat for the Suns' comparative woes this season, and Kyrie would have been a convenient, seemingly pretty hypothetical solution. "He's so SKILLED! And he scores a lot! He'd be a huge upgrade at the position!" Yeah, if you're making mixtapes, I guess. If you're trying to play winning basketball? I'd give you lateral move at best. And for the record, I'm STILL not saying "Oh, the Suns are totally going to win a title this year." I think I probably would give them more of a puncher's chance than most, but it's still an outside shot. But the idea that Kyrie Irving of all people, with everything we know about him, even if you're literally only talking on the court, moves the needle that much more than Chris Paul does, is almost laughable. If you include his dramatic tendencies? Good lord.

It's funny, because CP3 has developed something of a reputation (sometimes well-deserved) of being an occasional drama queen or having really ignominious lowlights over the course of his career. But Kyrie Irving is that multiplied many times over; the only reason people ignore it is because he made three straight Finals and won one (which was admittedly legendary) all with LeBron at a time when the Eastern Conference was basically "LeBron's Team vs. Everyone Else" and the West was an absolute dogfight every season. Once the going started getting tougher out East, most notably with the ascensions of Giannis and Embiid, Kyrie's trajectory didn't look that much greater than Chris's all of a sudden.

I've always thought Chris Paul, while certainly not without his faults, is underappreciated, even now. But this whole brief flirtation with the idea of a CP3 for Kyrie swap (whether or not it was ever actually on the table) and how quickly even a small-ish subset of Suns fans seemed to glom onto it really drove it home for me. Even a past-his-prime Chris Paul is a point guard probably more than 3/4ths of NBA teams would be happy to have, and the Suns literally do have him. Is his contract too rich? Almost definitely. Are there young guys who'd be better if you could get them? Well sure, but you can't get them, at least not in a one-for-one, so what's the point of the argument?

The bottom line is this. The Suns are doing SOMETHING at the trade deadline, and they need to if they want to even somewhat significantly contend for a title. But I really hope that things shake out in such a way that Suns fans realize that they dodged a bullet by not going after Kyrie Irving. Because if we're placing bets, the truth is they probably did.