Kyrie Irving Returns
I will start this article with one simple thought, Kyrie Irving is one of the 100 greatest players in NBA history. His three-point field goal at the end of Game 7 of the 2016 Finals against the Golden State Warriors is one of the most iconic shots in NBA history. Allen Iverson, Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving are the three best ball-handlers and finishers at the rim in the last 25 years.
In 582 career games, the seven-time All-Star Irving is averaging 22.8 points per game, 5.7 assists per game and 3.8 rebounds per game, playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, and Brooklyn Nets.
With the COVID-19 variant, Omicron spreading through the NBA like wildfire since Thanksgiving, the league and the Brooklyn Nets are preparing to welcome back an un-vaccinated Kyrie Irving who’ll only be able to play in road games due to New York City’s vaccine mandate.
Kyrie Irving has been an enigma to the basketball world since he chose to play at Duke University under Coach Mike Krzyzewski. During his only season as a Blue Devil in 2010-11, he played 11 games, averaging 17.5 points per game, 4.3 assists per game, while shooting 52.9% from the field. This was enough for him to be picked number one overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2011 NBA Draft.
In six seasons with the Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving averaged 21.6 points per game, 5.5 assists per game, 3.4 rebounds per game while shooting 45.7% from the floor. He made four NBA All-Star teams (winning the All-Star game MVP in 2013-14), played on three Eastern Conference Championship squads, including being arguably the MVP of the 2016 NBA Finals (which went to LeBron James) as Cleveland overcame a 3-1 deficit to defeat Golden State to win the franchise’s first and only NBA Championship. In the series, he averaged 27.1 points per game, 3.9 assists per game and made 15 three-pointers overall, while scoring at least 30 points in three games while scoring 41 points in game six during the epic Finals.
The mercurial point guard joined the Boston Celtics after forcing his way out of Cleveland via a trade after the Cavaliers lost in the 2017 NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors. Irving seemed to have had enough of being LeBron James’s sidekick or wanted to have a team of his own.
In his first season with the Celtics in 2017-18, he was fantastic, averaging 24.4 points per game, 5.8 assists per game, 3.8 rebounds per game and shooting 40.8% from three-point land. But his season was cut short to 60 games due to a knee injury, he missed Boston’s run to Eastern Conference Finals. In his second season with the Celtics, he simply didn’t mesh with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart scoring 23.8 points per game and dishing out a career-high 6.9 assists per game, in 67 games, as Boston was disappointing eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by the Milwaukee Bucks 4-1 in the 2019 NBA playoffs. The chants of MVP in his first season eventually changed to boos with Celtics fans all, but happy to pack Irving’s bags and bid him farewell to Boston.
Kyrie Irving joined the Brooklyn Nets as a free agent, his third NBA club before the 2019-20 season. Playing without Kevin Durant, who was still recovering from a torn Achilles suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals, the Nets finished the season 35-37. Irving only played in 20 games due to injury that season (and did not play in the playoffs), averaging 27.4 points per game and 6.4 assists per game. The Nets, the seventh seed would go to lose to the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoff in the “NBA Bubble,” after the league had forced to delay the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last season playing in 54 games, Kyrie Irving was All-NBA third team averaging 26.9 points per game, six assists per game, 5.2 rebounds per game while shooting 50.6% from the field. The Nets “Big Three” of Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden played only a handful of games together and never really had a chance to make a true impact.
What Irving’s Return Means For The Nets
The Nets finished the regular season 48-24 and the number two seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. After beating the Boston Celtics in the first round, the Nets fell to the eventual NBA Champions, the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games. Irving suffered a sprained ankle in game four and never returned to the series. It was a bitterly disappointing season for the Nets who entered the season as +600 to win the championship.
The Brooklyn Nets are currently the number two seed in the Eastern Conference with a 23-12 record, they’re +250 to win the 2022 NBA Finals (they were at +230 before the season started). Having missed the Nets first 35 games, the veteran, Irving entering his 11th season will have fresh legs, which will make it easier for head coach Steve Nash to stagger minutes for his veterans. Kevin Durant is averaging 36.9 minutes per game (fourth in the NBA) and Harden is playing 36.5 minutes per game (tied for seventh in the league). With the two-time Finals MVP, Durant missing extended time due to COVID, Harden has had to take on an even bigger role for Nets this season. Irving will be able to carry some of the offensive load in the final months of the season, as Durant and Harden can step back at times.
Currently, Durant leads the NBA in scoring, averaging 27.9 points per game while shooting 51.4% from the floor. In his first full season with Brooklyn James Harden is averaging 22.7 points per game and 9.9 assists per game. Harden a three-time scoring champ has a 25.1 career scoring average, while averaging 6.6 assists per game and shooting 44.3% from the field (36.2 % from three-point land). Irving will be able to help take the burden off Harden when it comes to scoring and playmaking; thus, making Harden even deadlier on the offensive end.
Another positive in Irving’s return, will be the ability for Brooklyn to use Patty Mills in a sixth-man role and be the leader of the team’s second unit. Mills, who thrives while in motion (a la Steph Curry) is averaging 13.8 points per game while shooting 42.8 behind the three-point line. He’s been one of the best free agent pick-ups of the season.
Finally, the Nets will be able to play a “small-ball” death lineup with Durant at the five, surrounded by four skilled shooters and playmakers in Irving, Harden, Mills and Joe Harris (when he returns from injury). This group will have obvious problems rebounding and at times on the defensive end, but if they’re knocking down their shots it shouldn’t be an issue.
The irony will be when/if the Nets face the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals and Kyrie Irving can’t play due to vaccine mandates in New York City and San Francisco. It will finally dawn on Kevin Durant that he left playing with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green to play with the most unreliable superstar in NBA history in Kyrie Irving.