During Kyrie Irving’s many basketball layoffs over the years – be it because injuriesAnd the Refusal to take a COVID-19 vaccine or lately suspension To promote an anti-Semitic documentary – the star’s mercurial brilliance has rarely been questioned on the court. Contemporaries mostly invited him most skilled player in History of the NBAwith some as far as saying Classified Among the league’s 75 greatest players of all time. And watching Irving is sure to leave you dazzled: you’ll be hard-pressed to find the craziest cover on defense, equipped with an arsenal of How did-he-think-who-move And even panicked to evade Rang And the most committed of repayments.
But Irving’s darling status to basketball aesthetes everywhere has overshadowed his overall contributions to winning basketball—even on the rare occasion when he’s on the floor. On a per possession basis, Irving has broken into the top 25 of the FiveThirtyEight regular season Total RAPTOR metric only once since arriving in Brooklyn for the 2019-20 season, and in his career he has reached that criterion fewer times (four) than he has fallen. outside (five). The player has a remarkable skill set Confused long advanced metricsIt’s fitting that RAPTOR sees Irving’s influence differently than conventional wisdom:
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The most obvious reason for Irving’s less impressive than expected numbers here is his defence. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, Irving was an easy target for opposing offenses chasing and has been negative on this end all but one year during the player-tracking era. Although his defensive impact has been trending higher with each successive season in Brooklyn, his numbers are still below average for a player of his caliber and position: Last season, Irving’s defensive negative-0.9 ranked 41st out of 72 points. Guards played at least. 1,000 minutes in the regular season, and was an above-average defender in position in just one season of his 12-year career.
It is to the credit of Irving’s improvement to this end that he is no longer among very Worst defenders in the league – His 2016-17 defensive performance ranks 13th worst in the 652 seasons since 2013-14 – but he still lags behind his peers in this regard. Compare that to Often vicious defense From Warriors guard Stephen Curry, whom RAPTOR has seen as a net positive defender in all but three years since 2013-14.
But while Irving’s defense usually leaves something to be desired, it’s not the only reason for this apparent disconnect between his reputation and his perceived impact on the game of basketball. (After all, no one ever accused Kerry of being a closed defender.) Even on offense, as you’ll notice from the table above, Irving didn’t consistently climb to the top level of the league during his professional career.
While he finished in the top five twice (2014-15 and 2018-19), Irving’s best season by offensive RAPTOR – 2016-17, scoring a 6.3-plus and sniffing out a spot in the coveted 50-40-90 club – ranks as the 29th-best offensive performance per possession by a guard since 2013-14 and 37th-best overall, while the 2020-21 season (which saw Actually scored that 50-40-90) ranked 38th and 54th, respectively. Curry (seven times), Chris Paul (five), James Harden (five), Damian Lillard (four), Russell Westbrook (twice), Trae Young (twice), Kyle Lowry (once) and even Isaiah Thomas (once) seasons More offensive attacking than Irving during this time period.
So why doesn’t Irving’s offensive effectiveness match what our eyes tell us? A big reason could lie in the difference between Irving’s traditional numbers and his impact on the field. Takes Evaluation of player efficiencyFor example, a per-minute metric that measures a player’s score production in the box, versus a plus/minus sign, which measures a player’s team’s performance when they are in the game versus not. Irving tends to do better in PER than he does in breakout stats, as shown in the chart below:
As a corollary, Irving’s assist rate Not in the same ballpark From distributors like Harden and Paul, he also doesn’t move off the ball like Curry. The same traits that have drawn comparisons to Kyrie’s dribbling as Maestro Rod Strickland And the Alan Iverson You might also be the one to prevent him from entering the attacking greats realm at all. As my colleague Jared Dubin wrote last springIrving’s penchant for stopping the ball on offense came to a head against the Boston Celtics during the 2022 playoffs, where his style of searching for contested shots against Boston’s defense helped stymie any rhythm Brooklyn hoped to build.
Yes, Brooklyn’s offensive rating of 115.0 with Irving on the floor will classify 3 as a long-term metric in 2021-22But herein lies Kerry’s conundrum. As a passive defender, you have to hope for an otherworldly offensive blast from Irving and company to offset the potential defensive drop that comes with his presence – and even a 115.0 GPA wasn’t good enough. As it stands, Irving isn’t the kind of scorer or tackler who can outsmart a team beyond its glaring defensive shortcomings – and build a Brooklyn roster that is, shall we say, Not exactly defensively inclined. And this year, it’s probably no coincidence that the Nets are Defense is much better While Irving was away from Earth. (Until counting Avalanche of 153 points The Nets surrendered to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night, Irving still pending.)
Finally, Irving’s numbers tend to slip when they matter most — in the playoffs. Since leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers (where admittedly drained One of the most famous buckets in the history of the NBA), Irving managed 21.9 points per game On 35/43/93, the shooter split 22 postseason contests, a significant drop from both his playoff stats as a gridiron and from his regular season numbers as a gridiron. At the same time, his team has been outclassed with him on the ground in two of his past three seasons.
And again, these numbers just show Irving when he was on eartha very unusual scene dating back to his time at Duke (when A Toe setting was the only source of missed games). Of the eight seasons his teams have played during his career, Irving has missed significant portions of four, as well as played less than 50 percent of regular season games since 2019-20. If you look at Irving’s RAPTOR beat above replacement, which is a cumulative statistic, it becomes clear that his (non-)availability is his greatest (in) abilityIn this category, Irving has ranked in the top 20 most valuable NBA players in a given season only twice since 2013-2014.
None of this means that Irving isn’t abnormally talented — nor does it indicate that he doesn’t belong in discussions of NBA greats at all. (That three-pointer he hit for a 73-9 defeat of the Golden State Warriors is the ultimate trump card in that regard.) Instead, it’s a commentary on how he’s arguably the most beautiful, dazzling, and skilled player in the history of more than most. The skill-based sport has left the flesh on the bones. (Sound familiar?)
Of course, a solid first step to correcting this discrepancy would be to appear on the basketball court, and soon Irving would have that opportunity again, because Coming back from commentary on Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies. But we’ll see how long it lasts: Over and over, even being there to play every so often was unachievable for basketball’s most frustrated star.
Neil Payne contributed research.
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