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Who is Kyrie Irving? He’s not a concept. He’s a player, a winner

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Put aside the day-to-day over where the Nets stand with Kyrie Irving, can he and D’Angelo Russell play together? Let’s look at him as a player. Jason Max Rose does the honors.

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics - Game Three Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The rumors are true! Kyrie is coming! Or, maybe he’s considering coming. Or maybe the rumors are only kind of true. Or maybe someone else is coming? Or maybe we’re crazy! (Okay, we’re definitely crazy).

No matter what happens in July, the Nets showed us in June just how serious they are about pursuing top talent by trading Allen Crabbe, the 17th overall pick, and a lottery protected 2020 first for Atlanta’s Taurean Prince and a 2021 second rounder.

That just leaves us all with the same question. Now what?

Well, I’ll tell you. Now is time for us all to sit down and have a rational, level-headed, normal conversation about Kyrie Irving as a basketball player. It only seems right for us to really give him his due as a player rather than an idea. A concept. A star who might be able to lift the franchise into the upper-echelon of the NBA.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get into it.

Kyrie Irving, despite being a nuisance to the Celtics off the court and an enigma during interviews with the media, made Second Team All-NBA this season! He did so because in 67 games he averaged 23.8 points, 6.9 assists, and a surprisingly high five rebounds per game, all while shooting 48/40/87 from the field. He threw in 1.5 steals per game for good measure. If we take All-NBA teams seriously, which we should, it would be reasonable to argue that there were only three (maximum) — more likely two— guards in the NBA that were better on the court this season. They would be Steph Curry and James Harden (first teamers) and Damian Lillard (his fellow second teamer).

When you can acquire the third or fourth best guard in the NBA heading into his age-27 season, you do it.

Aside from the stats, Kyrie ranks second maybe only to Steph in the league in the category of “Guys Who Can Do Things With The Basketball That Make You Rewind Ten Times Just To Figure Out What Actually Happened,” which is valuable in its own right. His handles are legendary, and he’s one of the best finishers as a guard we’ve ever seen. His ability to slice through defenses and command a significant amount defensive gravity is supremely valuable to any roster.

Here’s 12 minutes of those sweet, sweet moves...

For a more selfless player, all that would result in a lot of assists per game, especially in a system like the Nets that thrives on drive-and-kicks. And 6.9 assists is pretty good! It ranked 11th in the league, just behind DLo at 7.0. Kyrie Irving just happens to be one of the best and most ruthless iso-scorers in the league, so he has a penchant for finishing at the basket rather than kicking it out to a shooter on the wing. He ranked 15th in the league this season in Iso points per game with 2.9, which might not seem like a ton, but considering he played on a very team-oriented offense, it is fairly high. James Harden, by the way, led the league with 18.1 points per game, LeBron was second at 4.5. Wild.

It must be noted as well that Kyrie has been blamed for a large portion of the Celtics team dysfunction this past season. Once heralded as an over-performing franchise on the precipice of greatness (literally, having gotten to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last year without Kyrie) to an under-performing four seed with chemistry issues and a second round bounce. How much of that was actually Kyrie’s fault?

Michael Wilbon has no doubt...

Kinda harsh. And who’s to say at this point. I’m sure as we get further and further away from the season, more and more stories will come out about what actually went down in that locker room. Is it something to be wary of? Sure, all teams have to make sure they know who the guy they’re signing is, especially if he’s going to be making max-slot money. We also should trust the Nets to do their due-diligence, and if Sean Marks and company decide that Kyrie is stable enough to lead their team, then he deserves a shot to do so.

But for some reason, maybe because he’s so good, Irving engenders controversy across a broad spectrum, like the video of his balancing exercises. Were they real??? ESPN did a whole segment on it!!

And we are definitely not getting into flat earth!

Back on the court, one of Kyrie’s most overlooked abilities is his perimeter shooting. A lot of attention gets paid to his ability to cross guys into oblivion and finish at the rim, but over the last three seasons he’s hit threes at a 40.3% clip which is fantastic for an on-ball, high volume shooter. He’s also at 39% for his entire eight-year career, so it’s not like his three year stretch of sustained excellence is too big an outlier. He attempted 6.4 threes per game last season, and it isn’t unreasonable to think that number, if on the Nets, might be bumped up to somewhere closer to eight or even nine. D’Angelo Russell took 7.8 per game this season. Kyrie could be looking at even more attempts than that, combined with a green light on any and all drives to the hoop.

The last concern is regarding his injury history, which is not insignificant. He played 60 and 67 games in his two Celtics seasons, and is averaging 63.5 games per season in his career. That means he’s out one in every four and a half games. Better than Caris LeVert who’s missed 78 in his three years on the Nets.

His biggest problem has been his left knee, which has bothered him for years and kept him on the sidelines of last year’s playoffs. Here’s a good history. The Nets famously have access to one of the best medical and performance staffs in the league, and have handled injuries to players quite well over the last couple of years. We saw LeVert play in the playoffs this season, which is as much a testament to their medical and performance staffs as any. So is getting DLo in the best shape of his life, playing in all but one game. DeMarre Carroll and Jared Dudley swear by them.

So, this is another case of the Nets having to make a decision to trust their own staff, their own culture, and big risks can lead to big rewards. Or failures. But you can’t compete for championships without them. Just ask Toronto.

There’s something else though about Kyrie Irving, basketball player. He wins and he plays big when the stage is big. In little more than two months in the summer of 2016, he won an NBA ring and an Olympic gold medal at age 24. Three other players accomplished that tandem: his teammate LeBron James in 2016 plus Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen twenty years earlier. He also has a gold medal —and MVP award— from the 2014 FIBA World Cup. He helped get his team to the Finals three straight years.

And despite all of LBJ’s heroics in the 2016 comeback, it was Kyrie who hit the dagger in Game 7 of those Finals. Never forget. Here’s a few angles of that shot. Classic cool from every one of them.

He averaged 25.9 points a game in that 2016 championship run. LeBron averaged 26.3. In the Finals alone, he put up 27.1 points, again just behind LeBron’s 29.7. And in the crucial Game 5 of that series, with the Cavs down 3-1 and facing elimination in Oakland, he had 41 points, same as LeBron. He shot an electrifying 17-of-24. Remember? If you don’t, watch.

Kyrie is a special player, and if he decides to sign with the Nets, it will be a momentous moment for a franchise that has long been mired in mediocrity, and a lot of times worse, much worse. On the court, he will almost certainly continue to be one of the most dominant and magical point guards in the league. I mean, he’ll do that wherever he signs, but if he does it in Brooklyn we might see an unlocked version of Kyrie headed into his prime.

Yeah, it would be crazy. Like us.