Kyrie Irving excelling on court as Nets’ part-time superstar

Kyrie Irving said he’s still learning how to be a part-time NBA player, a major adjustment he insisted he is still trying to figure out.

His play of late suggests otherwise.

That was particularly true Wednesday, two weeks to the day since he returned to an NBA court, when the superstar guard carried the Nets to victory at Washington with a season-high 30 points.

Irving clearly seems to have figured it out, and the Nets are happy to have him, especially now that Kevin Durant is out with a sprained left MCL for a month, if not longer.

“Being in this game for two weeks now, just being back feels great,” Irving said. “But I’ll feel a lot better once I put two solid halves together playing at a high level and playing at a good pace, and not getting into that fourth quarter and [a] few shots are short. I think my first two shots in the fourth quarter were airballs. There’s just good defense and just getting back into the flow or the rhythm of the game, just that physicality.

“Teams are just waiting to get a stop on me, and you just got to keep making plays out there for our team to win.”

Kyrie Irving

This is obviously all new for the 29-year-old Irving and the Nets. He started the season sidelined because his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19 was at odds with New York City’s vaccine mandate. Then, as the Nets’ roster was ravaged by the virus, forcing them to bring in a number of players on hardship contracts, the team did a 180 on Irving, allowing him to be a part-time player. For now, he can only play on the road, except for games the Knicks at the Garden and the Raptors in Toronto, though he can practice with his teammates at home.

While he was away from the team, the seven-time All-Star guard remained engaged with the sport. He attended Seton Hall home games (his friend, Bryce Aiken, plays for the Pirates), worked out with friends and high school teams and immersed himself from a distance by talking to players he is close with from both the NBA and the WNBA.

Kyrie Irving can still only play in road games, in cities like Cleveland.
Kyrie Irving can still only play in road games, in cities like Cleveland.

“That’s what kept me connected,” Irving said. “I [wasn’t] too far away from the game. I’m able to still watch, I’m able to still observe, teach, but they were teaching me and like I said the other day I have [fear of missing out], but it was just I got a chance to see the game from another viewpoint.”

Considering Irving had just a few days of preseason practice, when the Nets were in San Diego at the start of training camp, and only had a handful of recent practices before returning, he has been impressive. In five games, three of them Nets victories, he’s averaging 22.0 points, 5.4 assists and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Fortunately for Irving and the Nets, he will get the chance to become even more comfortable because seven of the next nine games are on the road.

“He’s a pretty easy guy to try to fit,” coach Steve Nash said. “Now our team needs to continue to develop what we’re doing, what we’re going to [do], how we execute down the stretch, which if we do that, that’ll make all our guys better. But Kyrie is not an inhibitor to that. He’s been a great add, and obviously having him on the road has been a big plus for us. [Wednesday] he was brilliant and a big part of why we won.”

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