Amidst a sea of great players having great seasons, some of whom even share the same black and white jerseys, Kyrie Irving has had perhaps his greatest, and most underrated season yet.
Much of the Brooklyn Nets’ successful NBA season thus far has been attributed to James Harden’s and, early in the season, to Kevin Durant’s MVP forms. The Nets have adapted well to injuries, but the supreme starpower on display, even if one of the three superstars sits, has been almost incomprehensible, and NBA pundits and casual fans alike have brushed off the Nets’ success as “what they’re supposed to do.”
But throughout all of this – the praise for Harden, the awe early on of Durant returning fully to form, the inspiring play of role players like Bruce Brown and Joe Harris – has been one thing most consistent: the play of Kyrie Irving.
It must be peculiar to some to use “consistent” and “Kyrie Irving” in the same sentence, save for what the altruistic 29-year-old philanthropist does off the floor. But put simply, Kyrie has been flaky his past few years or so in the league. Along with injuries, there were times when he was on the Celtics where he looked lethargic out on the floor and disengaged from the rest of the young team that clearly needed a leader to galvanize the troops. It was reported that at points in the 2017 playoffs, Irving would give the rest of his defending-champion Cavaliers teammates the silent treatment. Kyrie even once allegedly walked up to Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens in a film session and asked him, “What does government mean to you?”
Having a keen mind and being a genuine person is not the cause for why Irving was labeled as “inconsistent” or “flaky,” but the results of his “odd” antics were hardly ever seen as positive. This led up to what seemed to be a make-or-break moment in the Nets’ season when in January, Kyrie stayed away from the Nets for several games due to personal reasons. Once videos came out of Irving in other social settings (especially with the coronavirus running rampant), it was questioned whether Irving might step away from the game altogether, and the Nets would be down to one superstar coming off an achilles injury.
Fast forward a few months and the Brooklyn Nets are vying for first place in the Eastern Conference, have another bonafide superstar in James Harden, and two new soldiers in the mix in Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge. The team is rolling, and aside from that one lapse in January and another missed game here and there, Irving has been the Nets’ most consistent factor all season. And though many might see Harden as the engine of the Nets offense, and Durant as the best overall player on the team due to his size and skill, Irving is the team’s x-factor. Plus, he deserves to be the face of the franchise as he is a lifelong Nets fan, having grown up in New Jersey.
Kyrie is averaging 27.9 points this season on 51 percent shooting, 6.2 assists and 4.9 rebounds a game. He has become the Nets’ shooting guard with James Harden running the offense, and fans have thus been treated to an absurd bevy of Irving’s basket of tricks. Instead of running sets, Irving has been able to play where he is most comfortable, slashing and cutting and engaging in dribble handoffs. This is not to say that Kyrie does not initiate a lot of the Nets’ offense, especially when Harden is on the bench. What it does mean, however, is that Irving is not required from the outset to get everyone on offense into place. He is able to roam, pick his spots, and show the world why he is the most insanely gifted and versatile offensive guard this game has ever seen. He looks happier and freer than he has ever looked on an NBA floor, and this is for a guy that took and made perhaps the most crucial shot in an NBA Finals game in history.
So while Kyrie may not be the most consistent player in the NBA, he certainly has been the most consistent player for the Nets all year. And for the most consistent player on the team at the top of the Eastern Conference standings, the team that many media pundits have picked to win the NBA title, Irving’s name deserves to be thrown in the mix for MVP.