I’ve resisted the urge to write about Kyrie Irving because I’ve resisted the urge to do a “He’s awesome, I told ya so, I am great by proxy” victory dance. But the jig is up, or on in this case. When Irving submits a performance like last night’s Boston besting, he becomes impossible to ignore. His overall game was magnificent, but the hairpin spin layup winner pegged that brilliance to a single, memorable moment.
A fiery upstart using Boston as a staging ground for thumbing his nose at an ossified imperial power? Why, a Tea Party would be the perfect metaphor for this, had the term not become so politically loaded. Or it would be were this a new occurrence, or even that shocking. Going 10-14 isn’t that surprising when you’re shooting over 50% on the year. He does this kind of thing on the regular, his PER is only behind that of Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, and the immortal Lou Williams among point guards.
Sometimes it seems as though the only shocking aspect of Kyrie’s success is how shocked people are by it. He was the number one pick, number one picks are supposed to be potential superstars. Yet there was no superstar buzz surrounding the Duke prospect. There was Puritanical clucking over how he should have returned for another year at Duke, worries over how few games he played before succumbing to a toe injury. The general assumption was that this draft was weak and that Irving’s selection highlighted an overall talent lowtide.
In the draft lead up, the tag on Irving’s game was, “a poor man’s Chris Paul,” or “Chris Paul lite.” Here is where I think NBA pundits got wrong-footed: There is no such damned thing as a poor man’s Chris Paul because Chris Paul is greatness. You cannot be an ersatz version of the qualities that make CP3 one of the best ever. Paul is inimitable, which is why he’s unguardable. He takes what the defense gives him and almost always knows what is given. You cannot have 10% less of this savant court vision, it is a complete mastery that Chris Paul builds his game upon.
Deep down, I think people understand this, which is why a poor man’s anyone sounds so unappealing. Thankfully for Irving, he’s a different player. More the slasher than the passer, Kyrie gets to the hoop by deftly changing speeds with Greg Maddux legs. He is less the pure point, and more the layup artist. The only comparison I can find for him is, “Compared to the other rookies, he’s quite incredible.” Now if only Byron Scott could play him more than Antawn Jamison.