John Wall is the better defender, but Kyrie Irving has played better defense this season
During his time in Cleveland, Kyrie Irving built himself a reputation for being a poor defender. He never played on a strong defensive team, and did not give maximum effort all the time. John Wall, on the other hand, is known as a terrific all-around point guard who defends at a high level. However, since being traded to Boston, Irving has looked like a completely different player, while Wall is not quite living up to the hype defensively for Washington.
Through 25 games, Irving has 1.4 Defensive Win Shares(DWS), a measurement of how many wins a player has been responsible for defensively. In 16 games, Wall has earned 0.6. Defensive Box Plus/Minus(DBPM) measures how effective a player is on defense. The average is 0.0, and Wall’s rating is -0.5, while Irving comes in at -0.2. As far as classic defensive stats go, Irving is averaging 2.6 defensive rebounds per game, compared to 3.0 for Wall. Irving leads in steals per game, 1.5 to Wall’s 1.1. Irving trails in blocks per game, 0.3 to 1.1.
Wall has had more pressure on him to be a good defender, and certainly has not been bad this year. But Irving’s improvement has been significant. Perhaps it has something to do with his newfound motivation as the leader of the Celtics. But the influence and coaching of Brad Stevens certainly has rubbed off on Irving. He’s become more of a team player, getting others involved, and raising the level of his teammates’ play. Take rookie Jayson Tatum for example; his 3PT% is an unbelievable 52%
Even without Gordon Hayward, the Celtics are 22-4, and look to be contenders for the NBA Finals. Possibly the biggest reason for this has been the improvement of Kyrie Irving.