Something is in the air. Go ahead, breathe in deeply. Can you taste it in the atmosphere? Good, let those bubbly particles sit on your palette for a second, maybe two. Now feel those neurons fire, experience that tingling sensation of dopamine release underneath your skin. Close your eyes for a second and hold this moment close. Don’t let go. Ahhh, normalcy.
It’s been far too long since any of us have encountered that sweet, savory feeling of cautious optimism. Yet… here are. Laid forth by none other than the basketball prophet himself, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi provided the news that all of us have been waiting for with baited breath.
Reporting with @ZachLowe_NBA: NBA teams are expecting the league office will issue guidelines around June 1 that will allow franchises to start recalling players who’ve left their markets to return as a first step toward a formal ramp-up for the season’s resumption.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 20, 2020
Obviously, many hurdles are still to be addressed in the coming weeks, but the important steps –– at least at this point –– appear to be resolved; the players and owners are on the same page, united by the power of the almighty American dollar, and a general outline of how and where the season will be completed is suddenly off the ground and running.
Here in Brooklyn, things have gone from zero to one hundred to a freakin’ thousand. Already there was some noise that Brooklyn’s sleeping giant was on the verge of breaking his season-long slumber, peeping underneath his sleeping mask at the changing NBA landscape. And now, it appears there’s a sliver of a chance that an unexpected third joins the party at the Nets starry table; per the Daily News’ Stefan Bondy, the Nets have “internally discussed ways to acquire Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal.”
With a whole lot of magic in the air –– and no, this isn’t in reference to the league’s potential resumption site, Walt Disney World –– it’s only fitting that we commemorate Brooklyn’s in-house sorcerer: point guard extraordinaire, Kyrie Andrew Irving –– a player who, based on his recent Instagram post, could be recovering from his March 3rd surgery rather nicely.
Looks like Kyrie Irving is back in the gym. It’s been 11 weeks since he had shoulder surgery. pic.twitter.com/2j0aDo6mYU— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) May 19, 2020
Roosevelt Middle School, West Orange, NJ? Looks like it.
While most of my “season in review” film studies have been written under the general lens of current roster fit, potential improvements, and prospective growth in the future, Irving, obviously, needs no introduction nor explanation regarding his championship pedigree.
In the limited time he saw the floor, Irving’s inaugural Brooklyn bonanza could be described rather succinctly: bonkers. 27.4 points, 6.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 47.8 percent from the field, 39.4 percent from three, and 92.2 percent from the line certainly speaks to that. But wait, it goes a level deeper.
Disclaimer: Before we nosedive into a pile of data, just remember that with percentiles, think of “50th percentile” as the median point in the data set of whatever skill we’re looking at. Anything greater than that mid-point is “above average” (at least according to that specific data spread) and everything else is “below average.” Capice?
Cool, cue le (career) numbers: On 95 total at-rim shots, Irving came away a happy man a whopping 65 percent of the time, a 78th percentile rating at his position per Cleaning the Glass (hint: that’s good!). We know what the guy brings in terms of at-the-basket brilliance: shifty stinkin’ footwork, ambidexterity that would make Pat Venditte jealous, the ability to change gears like a drifting sportscar, and that handle… oh, that handle.
When Irving puts his head down and drives all the way to the cup, the defense is transported to a world of hysteria and inevitable peril. Not only is the guy blessed with the ultimate starter kit of elite in-air contortionism, he’s also done his dang homework and put in the overtime hours on the mental aspects of the game; the guy is, after all, a 84th percentile isolationist with Larry O’Brien Trophy credentials to match. The floating bank shot, a tweener finish Irving has connected on a combined 79.4 percent of the time during his last two seasons, is a prime example of that. In those precious moments before Uncle Drew lofts his high-arching flip-shot perfectly off the glass, I picture Irving’s inner monologue looking something like the Zach Galifianakis blackjack scene from The Hangover, with Kyrie calculating every possible angle, parabola, bounce, circumference, derivative and digit of pi (as you can tell, I’ve failed every math class I’ve ever taken) to ease the ball calmly through that friendly Barclays twine.
At other points, he’ll utilize his knowledge of the angles and mastery of that trusty 72-inch by 48-inch square (normally known as the, uhhh, backboard) to his advantage, building counters off of counters to keep the defense guessing. Here, he sneaks in a quick “wrong arm” layup underneath the outstretched arms of Noah Vonleh after fabricating the intent of what appears to be an up-and-under finish on the other side of the rim. This is what years of being a superstar scorer leads to; a jittery defense sent into a disarray by even the slightest of micro-hesitations. Chess not checkers, young hoopers.
Taking a healthy step or two out and the results look largely –– and almost eerily –– the same; On 95 total non-restricted painted area attempts, Irving’s 45 percent success rate ranked (once again) in the 78th percentile among lead guards. One of my favorite finishes in Irving’s never-ending bag of attempts? His near one-of-a-kind free throw-line push shot, a floater so daring, it spiked my blood pressure with every nonchalant attempt.
The more traditionalist middies –– quantified as “long mids” on Cleaning The Glass –– are historically Irving’s best source of offense. This year was no exception: 48 percent, a 74th percentile efficiency per CTG. As a diligent student of Michael and Kobe university, Irving can not only break down a defense with a drive into a swift pull-up 15-footer, the 6-foot-3 guard can also post-up and fade. Here’s an example of both of these actions, with Irving crossing and dotting a jumper in the eye of former All-Defensive teammer Jrue Holiday in one clip, and hoisting a fadeaway one-legged Dirk Nowitzki-like fall-away in the other.
But wait, what’s a three-level scorer without a trusty three-point jumper?
I’m not breaking news nor uncovering novel information; Kyrie Irving can kill defenses with jumpers worth three points as a lethal catch-and-release recipient or through his forever-evolving dribble. On more than five attempts per game, Irving rose up off a dribble in the face of powerless opponents at 38 percent accuracy –– a talent that worked hand-in-hand with his silky inside game to amalgamate toward 86th percentile pick-and-roll ball-handling efficiency. Give the guy a sliver of room with a screen –– or even worse, a free lane in transition –– and you know what’s bound to happen next.
Next to another star (or two!), expect Irving’s 1.9 standstill attempts to only increase. Irving’s been a 45 percent (or better) catch-and-shooter in three of his last four seasons. I’d, personally, love to see more of that during Brooklyn’s fabled championship run.
We’d be doing Irving a disservice if we failed to touch on his evolving cunningness as a passer –– perhaps the most overlooked aspect of his game. For the second-straight season, Kyrie dished north of six assists per game. Already a fearsome scorer out of screen-and-roll action, the six-time All-Star also found his pick-and-roll partners (AKA roll-men) with 72nd percentile efficiency, he located cutters at 69th percentile accuracy, and most notably, he hit his spot-up buddies on the screws with 87th percentile precision as a passer. In short, he made a widespread concerted effort to keep his guys involved in the offense. His synergy with Joe Harris, in particular, was tangible, though this should come as no surprise given their history in Cleveland.
Lumberjack Joe said it best on Brooklyn’s Media Day, Irving’s “one of the guys that can make everybody else around them that much better.” Finding Harris in his favorite spot –– the right-wing during a transition possession –– is a great way to do just that.
The biggest thing missing from Irving’s 2019-2020 performance? Outside of defensive consistency (a -1.09 score on ESPN’s defensive RPM, 446th of 503 players, meh)… Time on the floor with his brand-spankin’ new teammates. If Brooklyn is to win the trophy at the end of the Big Thunder Mountain tunnel, 20 total games isn’t going to cut it. Perhaps an all-intensive load management program is needed. (Cue Brooklyn’s 2020 slogan) I don’t know,
I’m not a doctor.
One thing is for certain; Kyrie Irving more than filled the sizable shoes left by the homegrown star with chilly veins. Come to think of it, it’s only fitting if he makes his return to the hardwood at “the happiest place on earth.” After all, who knows what tricks he’s got hidden up those flowing wizardly sleeves.