Kyrie Irving takes the number 15 spot on our list of the best players in the upcoming 2022-2023 season. Surely this is the most significant news involving Irving this year. With a bit of history, Irving missed the majority of his freshman season at Duke. He was still drafted first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2011 and eventually won a title in Cleveland. He was subsequently traded to the Boston Celtics at his request, then signed with the Brooklyn Nets before the 2019-2020 season.
Discussing Irving in strictly on-court terms feels wrong. Actions like his endorsement of Sandy Hook denier Alex Jones or his characterization of the COVID-19 vaccine as “one the biggest violations of HUMAN RIGHTS in history” make it hard to focus solely on his on-court activities. Irving has also missed over half of Brooklyn’s regular-season games since joining the team. Of course, no vaccine mandate will keep Irving from suiting up this year. He’ll also be playing for a new contract as his deal expires after this season. What can we expect from a properly-motivated Irving next season?
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Top NBA Players 2022-23: #15 Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving’s 2022-2023 Season
There’s plenty to like about Irving’s game when he plays. His handle is legendary, and no player in NBA history has a wider array of dribble maneuvers. In contrast, he has underrated shooting talent. Irving had a 50/40/90 season in 2020-21, shooting those percentages from the field, three, and the free throw line, respectively. He has shot under 39% from three in just two of his 11 NBA seasons.
Irving can create an efficient shot for himself anywhere on the court. Looking at his shooting by zone on NBA.com is astonishing. It’s highly impressive he was able to accomplish those numbers with no training camp and after missing the first part of the season, no matter the reason.
In contrast to his other public statements, he’s been willing to embrace reality on the court as well. He told James Harden, “You’re the point guard” after Harden was traded to the Nets. Irving also sought leadership advice from LeBron James as a member of the Celtics.
Finally, Irving has shown real toughness and intelligence as a defender in important moments. His effort waxes and wanes during the regular season, but in the playoffs and when sufficiently motivated, Irving has the smarts and hands to cause problems for any small guard in the NBA. Irving always gets motivated when matched up against Stephen Curry. The next Nets vs. Golden State Warriors matchup should be a showcase for Irving’s defensive ability.
Kyrie Irving’s Areas of Improvement
Availability will be an issue for Irving throughout the remainder of his career. Set the time missed last season due to New York City’s vaccine mandate aside. Irving still has an incredibly long history of injuries dating back to his time at Duke. There are only three seasons in which Irving played over 70 games in his career. Irving was still in Cleveland for his last 70-game season. Irving will probably miss at least 15-20 games this season. He turns 31 in March, and at some point, these injuries will be insurmountable.
There are higher heights for Irving to reach when he’s available as well. Reaching them starts with an increased desire to get into the paint and finish at the rim. As mentioned, Irving can get anywhere he wants on the court, but that ability and his shooting skill mean he often settles in the midrange when better opportunities are available. He took 158 midrange jumpers and 138 shots from “floater” range last year, but just 81 shots directly at the rim. Irving has averaged over five free throw attempts per game just once in his career (5.1, in 2019-20). An increased focus on getting to the rim could help him earn more fouls.
Given his small stature and injury history, it’s understandable that Irving might want to save his body. Unfortunately for him, attacking the paint and drawing help is the best way to create shots for others. Irving will need to create far more opportunities for his teammates with Harden running point with the Philadelphia 76ers. Ben Simmons will help, but his scoring struggles in the half-court make him a much easier problem to solve for opponents than Irving.
The Last Word on Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving is playing for a new contract, the approval of his friend Kevin Durant, and to be remembered for something other than off-court melodrama. He seemingly has the necessary motivation to prove this number 15 ranking prescient with his play. It’s impossible to know whether or not Irving would describe his situation in these terms, though, which makes his approach to this season fascinating. The Nets might be title favorites or they might not escape the Play-In Tournament. Irving’s motivations will be the main factor determining how Brooklyn’s season plays out.