Nets fans were rewarded on Sunday afternoon with the sweet taste of All-Star free agent commitments. Sean Marks has earned praise around the NBA for making Brooklyn the free agent destination of New York.
Now, attention shifts to how Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan will fit in and contribute to the existing Nets squad. We’ve already taken a look at Durant’s short- and long-term impact, but the man that faces high expectations and will take on the leadership role in Durant’s stead is Kyrie Irving.
Brooklyn is taking a risk in pivoting from D’Angelo Russell, a young All-Star that proved his potential in leading the Nets to an unlikely postseason run. After an injury-plagued 2017-18 season, Russell quickly became a fan favorite and averaged 21.1 points and 7 assists per game last year.
In assessing Irving’s fit in Brooklyn, it is important to evaluate Russell’s role on the Nets last season.
Russell was a quintessential piece of head coach Kenny Atkinson’s offense — a versatile ball-handler with a deadly three ball and the ability to finish. Russell’s mid-range game was also a strong asset.
While Russell thrived in Atkinson’s offense, Irving is a more experienced and skilled guard at this point — and has the potential to be even better.
What is Irving bringing to Brooklyn?
NBA pundits and fans alike seem to have forgotten just how special Kyrie Irving is, instead choosing to focus on a hostile situation in Boston.
Irving’s locker room disputes aside, he had himself an impressive two-year run in Boston. Last season, Irving averaged 23.8 points, including a career-high 6.9 assists and five rebounds per game. Irving shot 40.1 percent from deep last season, doing so for three consecutive seasons.
Consistency is always reassuring when handing out millions of dollars.
Brooklyn’s offense will revolve around Irving and Durant — both of whom will be asked to shoot at will. Fortunately, shooting comes naturally to them. But with Durant sidelined with a torn Achilles, Irving will be the go-to guy for much, if not all, of 2019-20.
In Brooklyn’s system, Irving won’t be asked to exclusively take his defender one-on-one. Instead, he will be a cog in Brooklyn’s ball movement machine, passing to the open man and using screens to get himself open.
Look for Irving to shoot more threes and rack up more assists this season. It wouldn’t be surprising if he dishes out a career-high in assists per game yet again in 2019-20 — especially with Jordan rolling off the pick-and-roll.
Lob City may be coming to Brooklyn.
Though Irving has spent a considerable time sidelined with various injuries — including one that held him out of the 2017-18 playoffs — he has yet to show any signs of regression. The two-time All-NBA point guard is still hungry for victory, and Brooklyn will welcome him with open arms.
How does Irving fit in with Brooklyn’s culture?
The culture that Atkinson and Marks fostered is nothing like Irving has seen before — whether it was at Cleveland, Boston or even Duke.
The Nets play for each other — sacrificing good shots for great ones. This selfless attitude is what made Brooklyn a playoff team, despite losing Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie for extended periods of time last season.
Off the court, the Nets didn’t go their separate ways. Rather, they spent time with each other, taking the time to bond as a team throughout the offseason — no player left behind.
The Brooklyn Brotherhood will no doubt be an adjustment for Irving.
In Cleveland, Irving battled LeBron James for team’s alpha. To no one’s surprise, LeBron won — and with it, the Cavs won the 2015-16 NBA Championship. The series went to Game 7, where Kyrie Irving nailed a three to put away the Warriors.
After the following season, Irving left Cleveland, where Irving reportedly grew tired of being second to LeBron. But in Boston, Irving simply did not fit in — whether it was in Brad Stevens’s scheme or with the Celtics’ inexperienced roster.
In the following months, Irving will walk into a locker room where he — alongside Durant — will be charged with bringing Brooklyn their first NBA Championship.
If the antics are behind him and Irving truly finds his home in Brooklyn, he has the chance to lead this Nets team to many strong postseason runs. With Durant sidelined for likely the next season, the stakes for Irving are even higher.
But if he can thrive in year one without Durant, the foundation will be strong for 2020-21.
The potential is there, and Irving cannot delay in living up to — or surpassing — it.