Kyrie Irving was ranked the 15th best player in the NBA in Sports Illustrated’s Top 100 players of 2020; was the ranking justified?
Whenever a list of this magnitude is constructed, it always comes with some variation of criticism. Biased opinions are difficult to overcome, when we get an emotional attachment to a player or team, we zone in on the positive aspects and neglect any pessimism. So when Sports Illustrated ranked Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving as the 15th best player in the NBA, it might come with some criticism over players ranked higher by the team’s fanbase; but is that hypothetical feedback justified?
It should be noted that he was ranked higher than All-NBA talents in Kemba Walker (probably to the chagrin of many Celtics fans), LeMarcus Aldridge, Draymond Green, Al Horford, and Blake Griffin—that’s some pretty good company.
His ranking may have been different had it not been for a rocky season in Boston last year, which was acknowledged in the article by Rob Mahoney:
"It was Irving who led their descent into dysfunction with the season on the line, forcing up shots against a tough Bucks defense and calling for audibles that served no one. It was a fitting end to a season in which Irving demanded leadership of a team and then chafed at its practical, interpersonal realities."
The narrative on Kyrie Irving is set, you won’t find many individuals outside of Brooklyn that will go to bat and try to defend his name. Boston underwhelmed tremendously last season, and much of the blame was placed on his shoulders for the dysfunction in the locker.
Could he have gone about what he said in the media better? Absolutely, but is it possible that he uses his shortcomings in Boston as lessons learned and thrives in a place he considers “home” and become a reliable leader in Brooklyn’s locker room? Of course, he’s actually in a very opportune situation to shed any prior demons and rewrite the narrative placed upon him.
Outside of off-court drama, he’s one of the most electrifying players in recent memory.
Last year he compiled averages of 23.8 points, 6.9 assists, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.5 steals on 48.7 percent shooting from the field and 40.1 percent from beyond the perimeter.
His in-game theatrics dazzle NBA crowds, and with a proverbial green light from coach Atkinson and company—especially with Kevin Durant out—this upcoming season could result in career-bests for the 27-year-old.
With how he struggled in the second round of this year’s NBA playoffs, especially for his usual standards, and how the Boston Celtics vastly underachieved fresh off an Eastern Conference Finals appearance the year before, the ranking does make sense.
Where I urge “Uncle Drew” supporters or fans of the Nets is to look forward, Irving has the talent to crack the Top 10 in next year’s list at the very least.