Kyrie Irving has had a hectic last couple of years. One of the most individually talented and polarizing players of this century has finally found his home in the ever-changing landscape of the NBA. Over the summer Irving decided to leave a seemingly perfect fit on paper with the uber-talented Boston Celtics to join the bouncy and youthful Brooklyn Nets. During the summer of 2017, he requested to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers with the desire to lead his own team. He was acquired by the Celtics after general manager Danny Ainge decided that he could be the face of the franchise and an integral piece to the team’s rapidly developing rebuild. His first season in Boston he was electric. In year two he upped his level of play even more, but the team as a whole struggled due to an overabundance of players that needed the ball to succeed. The team just never seemed to mesh. After the season ended with a second-round playoff exit to the Milwaukee Bucks, it seemed like he wanted a fresh start and to be closer to his home state of New Jersey. He has also repeatedly mentioned his incessant search for happiness within the sport. All of that is understandable. Given what Irving has accomplished so far in his career, he is more than entitled to choose to play where he wants. According to Basketball Reference.com, Irving averaged career highs in assists and rebounds with 6.7 and 5.0 respectively. He also produced an incredibly efficient 59.2 true shooting percentage which is a testament to how talented he is on the offensive end. At 27, Irving is entering his athletic prime and reaching the peak of his basketball powers. He is an NBA champion and a 6 time all-star that is still expanding his overall game. While it is very unfortunate that things didn’t work out in Boston, both parties are moving on and looking forward to defining the next decade of basketball.
Part of what makes this upcoming season so fascinating for the Nets and specifically for Irving, are the parallels that can be drawn between this year’s Nets team and the previous two variations of Celtics teams. First off, new teammate Kevin Durant potentially might miss the entire season while recovering from a torn Achilles. Durant was set to be the Nets’ best player and be in serious contention for the best player on the planet title. This is similar to Gordon Hayward getting injured for the Celtics two years ago. Durant will be playing himself back into game shape in Irving’s second season with a new team, just like Hayward was in Boston. Irving is thrust into a leadership position on another young and generally inexperienced roster with a forward-thinking head coach that has a strong team-first system in place. Brooklyn has numerous up and coming talented prospects that flourished last season in head coach Kenny Atkinsons up-tempo and pass-heavy offense. According to NBA.com the Nets were third in both the Speed and Distance statistic as well as the Team’s Passing statistic. In other words, they play rapidly with infectious ball movement. The key is making sure the system works with Irving this season, and even more so when Durant gets integrated later on. Both players excel in isolation basketball. According to NBA.com, Durant was third in isolation last year while Irving was 15th. There isn’t much cause for concern though. Both Irving’s Celtics and Durant’s Warriors had similar systems with innovative coaches calling the shots. Both players have very high basketball IQ and the added element of their friendship should help them coexist on the court and allow Durant to be integrated seamlessly. With a fresh start in Brooklyn, Kyrie Irving has the chance to succeed in a leadership position.
With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant healthy, the Nets are expected to contend for the top seed in the eastern conference, and even a championship. With just Irving this season, they are still projected to be somewhere from the 5th-8th seed and make the playoffs. It is interesting to see Kyrie Irving’s journey and how much basketball he still has left to play. With the youthful exuberance vibrating from the organization and Irving’s previous success in the playoffs, they could even win a playoff series or two with the absence of Durant. The season will be a fun one for Nets fans and it will be a super competitive one in the Atlantic Division.