Warriors' Steph Curry against Nets' Kyrie Irving: Who wins 1-on-1?


With the season currently paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, NBA fans need something to whet their appetites. A head-to-head battle between two Hall of Famers? Yep, that'll do the trick.

As NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh reported Friday, Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon were supposed to go 1-on-1 back in 1995. The matchup never happened, but the appeal is obvious. Who wouldn't have wanted to see the two legendary big men go at it?

Which got us thinking: Which 1-on-1 matchups between modern players would fans most want to see? Immediately, one comes to mind.

Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving constantly have been compared to one another throughout their NBA careers. Obviously, the rivalry between the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers played into that, but it's easy to see why.

Who are the two best point guards in the NBA? Who has the best handle in the league? Who is the most talented point guard Kevin Durant has ever been on the same team with?

With apologies to Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook, chances are, the most common answers to those questions would be Curry and Irving.

They've both had legendary performances when their teams have gone head to head, but obviously, we've never had the opportunity to see how a 1-on-1 matchup might play out.

Which begs the question: How would it?

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Curry is four years older than Irving, however, he has only spent two more seasons in the NBA, and at this point, both players are who they are going to be. They're both in their primes, but it's unlikely that either would take a major leap forward throughout the remainder of their careers.

So, we'll base this theoretical matchup on how the two players have performed up to this point. And upon doing so, it reveals to be just as enticing as you might expect.

In nearly every major statistical category -- scoring, rebounding, assists, shooting percentages, PER, win shares -- Curry has the upper hand over Irving.

Though Irving is a sharpshooter in his own right, he hasn't been nearly as accurate as Curry. From the field, the free-throw line and particularly from 3-point range, Curry has proven to be the better marksman. If the 1-on-1 matchup came down to shot-making, you'd have to give the two-time MVP the benefit of the doubt.

Speaking of which, Curry has all the hardware in his favor, too. Two league MVPs to zero, three NBA championships to one. That doesn't matter much, if at all, in a 1-on-1 setting, but generally speaking, the best players tend to get the awards.

If there's one area where you'd have to give Irving a slight advantage, it's dribbling. Curry has a fantastic handle, probably second-best in the league, and certainly one of the best of all time. The problem for Steph is, Irving is the one above him. Each player has a hefty catalog of ankle-breaking highlights, and Curry has embarrassed plenty of NBA players with his moves. But Irving seems to want to embarrass his opponent whenever he has the rock -- and, more often than not, he does.

So, if they went 1-on-1, you could expect plenty of slick handles from both sides. Neither would want to get their hand caught in the cookie jar, but both surely would -- Curry maybe once or twice more than his opponent.

Which brings us to defense. Neither player will ever be named NBA Defensive Player of the Year, but both are much better defensively than they're given credit for. For their careers, Curry and Irving have posted individual defensive ratings of 107 and 109 points allowed per 100 possessions, respectively. Neither number is overly impressive, but both are solid, especially given their offensive output. Curry (1.7) has averaged more steals per game than Irving (1.3), but Kyrie (0.4) has the advantage over Steph (0.2) in blocks. All those differences are fairly negligible, and generally speaking, there isn't much separating the two from a defensive standpoint.

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So, shot-making goes to Curry, ball-handling goes to Irving and defense is a push. How the heck does that play out, 1-on-1?

I don't know. But who wouldn't want to find out?