When the 2-2 Celtics were getting ready to take on the Pistons for their second game in a mini home and home series, Kyrie Irving was a topic of conversation. In the Celtics blowout win over the Pistons during that weekend, Irving notched a quiet 3 points and spent a majority of the game setting up his teammates. When asked about his performance after the game, Irving gave this interesting response:
Kyrie Irving with a totally mature way of looking at his 3-point night and his role for this season: "Be cool." pic.twitter.com/Z358C482Hq— Jay King (@ByJayKing) October 28, 2018
Through the first four games Irving was averaging 14 ppg, 4.8 rpg, and 5.5 apg but had a 45.3 TS%. Though the attitude was reassuring, the production was not. As great as Irving’s surrounding cast was, his elite scoring ability was the secret sauce that was supposed to separate the Celtics from the rest of the pack. If the Celtics ace didn’t have his fastball, could they maintain the same ceiling?
It appears we never had to find that out. Kyrie Irving got rid of the ‘fro and promptly lit up the Pistons in their next meeting for 31 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists on a mere 16 shots. When talking about his performance, he gave a special shout out to Celtics legend Tommy Heinsohn who called out the Celtics star for looking a bit out of shape.
How much Irving actually was affected by those quotes will never be known to anybody but him, but since then, the Celtics star has seemed to regain his form. In the Celtics last 6 games, Irving has averaged 21 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 5 apg on 69.6 TS% via NBA Stats. The team is 8.8 points better per 100 possessions when he’s on the court and he’s doing this on a 24 USG% which is tied for 40th for his position. Furthermore, Kyrie is finishing 71.4% of his shots from the restricted area, 50% of his paint attempts not in the restricted area, 50% of his mid-range shots, 60% of his left corner 3’s, 100% of his right corner 3’s, and 51.6% of his above the break 3’s.
In a losing effort to Nuggets, Kyrie Irving scored 31 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and corralled 3 steals. He lit up the Nuggets from every area of the floor.
Not only did Kyrie put his own stamp on the game, but the team relied on him heavily on offense, only being able to score 29% of their points when Irving was off the floor.
The kicker to all this is Kyrie has made his resurgence on a mere 13.8 FGA which is slightly under than his first four games (14.5 FGA) where he struggled. His shot shows the biggest change in shot profile was a combination of an uptick in three-point attempts and better overall efficiency in general.
Kyrie Irving is back, but the Celtics are still very much a work in progress. They’ve found some consistency in the last 6 games moving up to third in 3PA and 8th in AST%, but are 29th in converting wide-open FGA (34.5%) despite generating the 2nd most in the league (24.2), those looks makeup 27.7% of their offense. At times it feels like you’re giving a team a pass by saying “they’re just missing shots” but when Horford, Brown, and Hayward are combining to shoot 31.3% from three on what makes up 35% of the teams three-point attempts and 68% of those looks are classified as “wide open” via NBA Stats, it’s hard to look much further.
Some have claimed that the iffy shooting performance has been due to a lack of rhythm. Guys aren’t familiar with each other, where there shots are coming from, and that takes time. The Celtics offense believes in the similar concepts as the Warriors when it comes to floor spacing, option-based offenses, sharing the ball, and getting up threes. One of the glaring differences between the two teams is Golden State knows what their roles are and most importantly who their alpha dogs are while Boston is still trying to do everything by committee. Nothing makes that clearer then the difference in the teams shot attempts.
It’s fair to point out that the Warriors have been together for three years and the Celtics are only 10 games in with these guys with more capable guys at the back of their rotation. Sharing the ball is great and having more capable guys is better but does the “all is equal” offense really work in the NBA? Even the 2003-04 Pistons who are known as the team that won without any stars had a hierarchy offensively.
Part of establishing an identity as a team is understanding the hierarchy and a lot of times that is indicated through shot attempts. Right now, the Celtics are struggling to find rhythm in part because everyone seems to be focused on not stepping on the other person’s toes. That has to change if the team wants to find any consistency on that end and Kyrie Irving can be the one to end it.
Irving has established himself as the face of the franchise and players on the team and across the league consider him to be one of the best scorers in the league. He is the most efficient scorer on the squad so getting him more shots shouldn’t be an issue. Guys like Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Morris will have to sacrifice a couple of attempts, but that’s just the reality of playing with a team with championship aspirations.
Before going down with his injury last year, Irving was in the mist of something special. Boston had a 119.7 offensive rating with a 60.6 TS% along with a 10.2 net rating when Irving was on the court via NBA Stats. Individually, Irving averaged 24.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, and 6.3 apg on 54.5/49/89.5 shooting in just 29.7 mpg. He still led the team in USG (29.5%), but the team moved the ball extremely well when he was on the court and averaged 28.4 apg which would have been good for 2nd in the entire league. Those Post-ASB were a small sample, but they highlighted what a team led by Kyrie being Kyrie could be.
When Danny Ainge acquired Kyrie Irving two summers ago, he was confident in Irving’s abilities. “...[A]cquiring a 25-year-old perennial All-Star, a player that fits a timeline for us and is a fantastic offensive player, one of the best offensive players in the league, you have to pay a heavy price.”
You don’t buy a Maserati to drive it like a Prius and right now the Celtics are focusing too much on the miles per gallon and not enough on the 0-60 time. This rebuilding process was built on the premise to attaining superstars so that you can win a title. The team got the stars, but now it needs to focus on maximizing them, specifically Kyrie Irving, with the hopes that with a set hierarchy, roles, familiarity, and rhythm will be found for this searching Celtics team.