Nash, Nets taking ‘strategic’ approach to Kyrie Irving’s playing time

Kyrie Irving
Jan 10, 2022; Portland, Oregon, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) watches from the bench during the fist half against the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Like a lot of his lineup decisions this season, Steve Nash is trying to take a methodical approach with Kyrie Irving.

The Nets Superstar was back on the court on Monday night for just the second time this season, with his third appearance set for Wednesday night in Chicago. Irving, available only to play in games on the road due to his unvaccinated status, can be looked at as a bit of a trump card for the Nets when they’re on the road.

A player that is one of the best in the league, but is a guy that teams have a hard time preparing for.

“I imagine it’s more difficult to prepare for us on the road when we have (Irving),” Nash said prior to the Nets loss on Monday night. “He’s obviously an electric player who is capable of so many things on the court. Adding him to our group makes everyone better. I think it is a bigger challenge for teams when they have to face us with Kyrie.”

However, that doesn’t exactly mean that Nash wants to overuse the seven-time NBA All-Star when he has him available. Irving wasn’t subjugated to any minutes limit in Monday’s 114-107 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Irving played in 40 minutes after being limited to 32 the prior week in Indiana. Yet, Nash isn’t overly anxious to throw Irving out there for 40 minutes every night, especially with a game against Chicago coming up as well.

“We would love for it to be a gradual and a strategic allocation of minutes,” Nash said. “Not just like alright great we got a new Ferrari and we’re going to rack up the miles.”

It’s certainly been a balance already just two games into the part-time return of Irving. The Nets guard looked much quicker out of the gate on Monday than he did in his first game back against the Pacers last week.

Irving put up seven points in the first quarter for the Nets on Monday night and had 22 points by the end of the night. He also finished 8 rebounds and 4 assists.

“Just trying to catch my wind. Just a few deep breathes. Get my legs underneath me,” Irving said about getting back into a rhythm. “I had a few good looks of just going to my pull-up (shot), but I have to be attacking the rim more and just finishing over top of the contest. I got my shot blocked a few times (Monday). … It felt like a made a few good moves, but now it’s just getting back in that NBA action of that athleticism and catching up to that speed.

“That’s really what it is, I feel.”

Irving’s return to the Nets despite being unvaccinated had set off a firestorm of reaction from fans, media and just about everyone else. It has led to countless op-eds and think pieces over the decision to allow him to play, but his value to the team on the court has been undeniable.

“Kyrie is just, he’s a wizard, man,” Trail Blazers coach and former NBA star Chauncey Billups said before Monday’s game. “He’s must-see TV. I personally think, as somebody that played the position, I think Kyrie’s the most skilled player that’s ever played that position. Just straight skill. Nothing else. Just straight skill. I think he’s the best that I’ve ever seen at the position, skill-wise. So, obviously, he gives you a ton when he’s playing.”