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Who Belongs on Team USA, Kyrie Irving or Damian Lillard?

Who belongs on Team USA, Kyrie Irving or Damian Lillard?

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Spo


I am very curious about Damian Lillards chances of being part of the final 12 for the upcoming FIBA World Championships. It seems that a lot of the analysts are split as to whether or not Lillard will be selected. If Team USA goes with three point guards, the consensus is that D. Rose and Steph Curry are locks, leaving the final spot to either Lillard or Kyrie Irvine. I know that Kyrie might be the bigger name(unless you ask Adidas,) but what are Lilards chances? If it comes down to choosing between those two, whom do you think Coach K would select? What are there comparisons? Thank you.


However that duel ends up (assuming that the decision comes down to those two) Trail Blazers fans should stop for a second and consider what it means that their point guard is not only being mentioned in the same sentence as Irving but possibly beating him out. Kyrie's game has flaws, but this guy is on a short list of the most promising young guards in the league. Lillard is right there with him on the court. Off the court he carries the prestige of The Shot, plus the national ad campaign from Adidas. Already he's being mentioned before Irving in plenty of casual conversations about great new point guards. Could you have imagined that two years ago when he was drafted? Likely not, which is why Blazer fans should be pretty happy no matter how this Team USA thing turns out.

By statistics, the two guards are pretty close. Both shoot around 43% from the field overall, though Irving has been higher in his career whereas Lillard has not. Damian has the advantage from the three-point arc, 39% to 36%, though again Irving shot better before last season. Assist-to-turnover ratios are nearly identical. Points and assist per minute are close, with Irving carrying a slight edge. That edge is balanced by Lillard's superiority in True Shooting Percentage. Irving takes slightly more shots from mid-range than Lillard does and dominates field goal percentage within 16 feet. Outside of that range Lillard takes over. Neither one is a great defender.

Appointment to the national team will not rest on statistics, however. Coach Krzyzewski has plenty of ways to build a math-based squad. Heart, desire, trajectory, comfort with the system, and the ability to play with others will likely end up as deciding factors.

Lillard may have a small advantage in playing style in that he's used to being Option 1a playing alongside LaMarcus Aldridge. He operates comfortably off the ball. He can hit a corner three. He picks his spots and doesn't have to be the show in order to contribute. On the other hand his major edge over Irving--the perimeter game--could be duplicated by several players on the roster: Stephen Curry, Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant...perhaps Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward as well.

Irving would appear to have an extra year of experience over Lillard but their actual minutes played equal out. Lillard's star is rising while Irving has been in a holding pattern, perhaps decline. Even so, Irving's worst statistical season stood even with Lillard's best.

We'd have to see more of Team USA's practices to measure how badly either player wants the job and how each has improved during national training camp. Lillard's intangibles need no trumpeting. His game-closing shots and burgeoning star power speak for themselves. You can't put anything outside of his reach. But Irving didn't slouch his way to stardom either.

Big picture: you could slide a couple pieces of paper through the distance between these two, not much more than that. If forced to choose I'd take Damian just for the understated, non-demanding confidence factor. If I need one shot to win a game, if I have to pass the ball to one player with the night on the line, Lillard would be high on my list. But I'd more than understand if the coaching staff chose Irving. I'd assume that Kyrie showed a little more rhythm or brought a wrinkle that Coach K and company favored.

Either way the decision goes, USA Basketball can't miss. Nor should the rejected player hang his head. Nor should we be entirely surprised if the team finds a way to keep both. What is a shooting guard nowadays anyway? Do you see a lot of 6'6" international players who could exploit Lillard and Irving on one end and keep up with them on the other? Between Rose, Curry, Kyrie, and Dame Team USA could roll out any number of small-guard combos capable of scoring on either side of the court off the dribble or catch. The pressure would never end for the opponent. This may end up being the best option of all.

I'm not sure I could keep a straight face while asking, "Which guy would you choose?" on a site that covers the Trail Blazers. Instead I'll ask what arguments you can see for each player and which of those arguments settle the matter for you. Register your comment below and vote in the poll. Maybe we can wrangle some Cleveland fans to come over and debate the other side of the ledger, or at least balance the ballot a little.

Damian Lillard vs. Kyrie Irving: which is the better bet for Team USA and why?

--Dave / @DaveDeckard