clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How good is Kyrie Irving? Magic Johnson calls him a ‘video game;’ Isiah Thomas, ‘Jim Hendrix’ with the ball

New, comments
Brooklyn Nets v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Mike Mazzeo, after watching Kyrie Irving this year, talked to people seeking answers to the question we’ve all asked, just how good is this guy?!?

Those answers from those who know Irving — and the game, particularly its history — were hardly surprising but they were certainly creative and entertaining.

“The greatest compliment I can give him is he really is a video game,” Magic Johnson, arguably the greatest point guard of all-time, told Mazzeo. “These kids play it — my grandson plays it, my son plays it — and he’s out there actually doing it.

“He’s the one player who can electrify a crowd while also making the opposing players on the bench go crazy after he just crossed up their teammate. That’s how great he is.”

“It’d be like if you took guitar lessons and then played the guitar, ‘OK, it sounds good,’” says Isiah Thomas, who was quite the finisher in his day. “And then you get Jimi Hendrix to play the guitar and it’s like, ‘Oh s—t!’ It’s like, ‘What’s that?’ And that’s what we’re watching here. That’s what I was trying to be like. There’s no category for that.”

Caris LeVert who of course played with Irving had an even more succinct description of Irving when asked last week, “I mean, for me, if we’re talking just skill, I would say Kyrie’s the most skilled player of all time.”

For Mazzeo, it all comes down to his ability to finish. It’s so extraordinary ... and so practiced.

“We see him working on those (circus, lefty) shots in practice and on his own, so there is no surprise that he’s comfortable taking and making them in a game,” Sean Marks says. “Often you see elite players constantly challenging themselves to be able to take their games to another level, and that would include pushing boundaries in their shot-making abilities.”

There’s also the history of how Irving got to the level he’s at. There were a lot of candidates to work through, but Mazzeo writes that after talking to a number of people close to the 10-year vet, the man most responsible for Irving’s skillset is close to home. Very close.

“Kyrie is a special talent,” says Phil Handy, an assistant coach Cavaliers when they won it all. “His dad (Drederick Irving) was a big influence on skill growing up. He always worked on his off hand to be equally good at finishing at the rim. Even back to my Cleveland days we spent a lot of time on his left-hand finishes.”

Kevin Boyle, Irving’s high school coach, adds another element to the discussion, that Irving is the master below the rim like only one other NBA player.

That’s what separates Kyrie and Stephen Curry,” said Boyle. “They both dominate without dunking.”

Indeed, when Irving dunks, it’s a big deal. He’s only done it three times this season. What he has been doing is showing a full repertoire. With four games left, the 50/40/90 Watch is on. At this point, Irving is a few good 3-pointers away from the standard of shooting excellence that only eight players have reached. (Steve Nash reached it four times!)

There’s more to the story, but the bottom line belongs to Magic and Isiah.

“He’s a showman, ‘Mr. Excitement,’” Johnson said. “I just love watching him play, and he’s a winner.”

“Kyrie has developed his own unique style in today’s NBA, where many players are a carbon copy of someone else,” Thomas said. “We all still have something to prove, but he’d walk into the Hall of Fame tomorrow given what he’s done.”

“He’s a showman, ‘Mr. Excitement,’” Johnson says. “I just love watching him play, and he’s a winner.”