Four pressing questions facing Kyrie Irving and Nets ahead of star’s return as part-time player

The Nets will soon be whole again.

Kind of.

While the Nets made it clear before the season that they “would not allow any member of our team to participate with part-time availability,” the franchise recently changed its mind. announcing that they have “decided that Kyrie Irving will rejoin the team for the games and practices in which he is eligible to participate.”

Under New York City guidelines, Irving, who appears to remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, cannot play games that take place in New York. However, you can practice in the team’s private facilities and fully participate in almost all of their away games. That means Irving will be a part-time player for the remainder of the season.

According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Irving is expected to make his season debut on Wednesday when the Nets take on the Pacers.

How much can the Nets win by having Irving back in the lineup? How much better does it really make the Nets?

Let’s take a closer look.

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What does Kyrie Irving bring to the Nets?

High score.

Irving is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. He appeared in 54 games last season with averages of 26.9 points, 6.9 assists and 4.8 rebounds with 50.6 percent from field goals, 40.2 percent from 3-point range and 92.2 percent from free throw line in 2020-21. .

He made some history in the process, becoming the ninth member of the NBA’s 50-40-90 club.

Those numbers speak to how complete Irving is as a shooter, both from standing and on the move. According to NBA.com, hit 43.4 percent of his 3-point catch-and-shoot attempts and 37.2 percent of his 3-point pull-up attempts last season. In addition, he made 54.4 percent of his field goal attempts from mid-range.

Outside of the ball, Irving is not someone teams can really help.

On the ball, Irving is capable of scoring against anyone.

He does his best work in isolation, where he has long been making even the best defenders look silly with his deft handling.

His dribble shot has long made him one of the best pick-and-roll scorers in the league.

Nor are there many players who score as often as Irving in transition.

Irving has his limitations as a number one option, but he thrived playing alongside LeBron James in Cleveland and had success playing alongside Kevin Durant and James Harden, both separately and together, last season. It’s dynamite in the right situation.

“Have you seen him play?” Durant said of Irving before your return. “He’s a master. He can score 60 percent, 70 percent of his shots if you don’t defend him. He’s a high IQ player. It’s just a matter of him getting his legs under him and his rope underneath. And then for us, we’re going to make plays on him, we’ll try to find him.

“We play team basketball, but he can adapt and do anything, so we are not worried about him.”

How much better are the Nets on Kyrie Irving?

Last season’s numbers point to the Nets being pretty good regardless of the combination of their stars on the court, but it was basically impossible to stop them when Irving, Durant and Harden were in the lineup at the same time.

According to PBP Stats, the Nets scored at a rate of 121.6 points per 100 possessions in Irving, Durant and Harden’s minutes combined. That would have given them the best offensive rating in the league by a country mile. They allowed a decent number of points at the other end (114.9 percent), but still outscored the teams by a dominant margin when all three shared the floor.

Nets alignment combinations (2020-21 season)
Players in Players out Minutes Offensive rating Defensive rating Net valuation
Kyrie irving Kevin Durant, James Harden 614 118.5 115.3 3.2
Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant James harden 570 123.8 113.7 10.1
James harden Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant 517 118.9 115.6 3.3
Kyrie Irving, James Harden Kevin Durant 500 121.1 118.8 23
Kevin Durant Kyrie Irving, James Harden 286 126.4 111.9 14.5
Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden 202 121.6 114.9 6.7
Kevin Durant, James Harden Kyrie irving 99 130.5 109.8 20.8

There were some legitimate questions about whether the three could coexist when they first joined forces, but Irving, Durant and Harden looked comfortable playing with each other. Harden was the biggest game changer, taking on more traditional point guard duties like running the offense and making sure everyone gets his touches, while Durant and Irving remained scoring machines.

“There really was no adjustment”, Harden said of going from the Rockets to the Nets. “I keep playing the way I do, but now I don’t have to throw the ball as much.

“It’s really the best style for me, to be honest. Kevin and Kyrie can always go get a bucket and, with me as a playmaker, I can think about how to get the shooters involved, how to get big touches, how to create wide shots. My main goal is to try to involve everyone and for each player to have an impact on the game. “

With the ups and downs Harden has been as a scorer this season (he’s averaging his fewest shot attempts since 2011-12 and posting the second-worst true shooting percentage of his career), he could benefit the most from Irving’s return because it will allow him to be a more opportunistic scorer. Durant will probably still be Durant, but he won’t have to carry the same burden when Irving is there.

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How will the return of Kyrie Irving affect the Nets rotation?

Irving will fill part of the shooting gap left by Joe Harris, who has been limited to 14 games due to an ankle injury that required surgery. Harris is more of a traditional shooter, but Irving will provide a similar amount of space when he’s on the court.

The player likely to be most affected by Irving’s return is Patty Mills. Mills came off the bench to start the season, but has now started 20 consecutive games for the Nets, while recording 16.9 points on a fiery 41.7 percent shooting from 3-point range. Mills will likely start in games Irving doesn’t play, but will move up to a sixth-man role in the games he plays.

Mills has still been productive in the games he came off the bench this season, averaging 10.4 points on 48.1 percent shooting from deep.

Beyond that, Irving’s return shouldn’t shake up the rotation. too much. After all, the Nets are a very heavy team built around three superstars. Everyone else was brought in to fill the voids around him.

How available will Kyrie Irving be to the Nets?

The Nets could be seeing a fair amount of Irving for the rest of the season.

Of Brooklyn’s 45 remaining games, 24 are on the road. Assuming you are not vaccinated, you will not be allowed to play in three of those away games, two at Madison Square Garden and one in Toronto, but you will be eligible to play in the others regardless of your vaccination status.

That doesn’t include the three Brooklyn games that were postponed, only one of which was out.

(If you’re wondering what this means to Irving financially, he just losing salary for the home games you miss. According to reports, that works out to roughly $ 381,000 per game).

Ironically, the Nets have had a much harder time getting wins at home (10-8) than on the road (13-3) so far this season, but having Irving even in a half-time capacity will take part of that. load. outside of Durant and Harden, who currently rank second and fourth, respectively, in the league in minutes per game, which isn’t ideal considering Durant is only a couple of seasons away from tearing his right Achilles tendon and Harden is coming. from a nice severe hamstring strain.

Nets general manager Sean Marks alluded to that in his statement.

“We came to this decision with the full support of our players and after careful consideration of our current circumstances, including players missing games due to injuries and health and safety protocols. We believe that the addition of Kyrie will not only convert us in a better team but let us more optimally balance the physical demands of the entire squad. “

The playoffs are more interesting because, as things currently stand, Irving would be out of the game in four of the seven games in any series in which the Nets are the shortest. The Nets still have enough star power between Durant and Harden to beat most teams in a series, but Irving’s availability could become a much bigger factor the further they get into the playoffs.

Much could change between now and then, but it is a reminder that there is still a lot to resolve.