The Brooklyn Nets might be led by the scoring prowess of Kevin Durant and the all-around game of James Harden, but that shouldn’t minimize what Kyrie Irving brings to the table. He is still one of the best ball-handlers the game has ever seen and one of the best offensive players in the sport.
While Irving has struggled with his health over the last few seasons, that hasn’t eroded his handles, speed, or ability to come through with clutch shots whenever he needs to.
The decreased volume of shots hasn’t bothered Irving, who is fresh off one of the best offensive seasons of his career.
Despite that, and the fact that the Nets made it to the second round of the postseason while suffering through a host of injuries, ESPN appears to have somehow come to the conclusion that Irving is just BARELY a top 20 player in this league for reasons we do not understand.
ESPN’s annual ranking of the top 20 players in the NBA has Irving ranked No. 20 overall, one spot down from his place on last season’s list.
He ranks just ahead of Bam Adebayo, Jrue Holiday, and Zion Williamson, which means that ESPN is almost assuredly underselling Kyrie’s skills.
Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving is rated too low by ESPN.
Irving averaged 26.9 points per game (second-best mark of his career behind 2019-20), grabbed 4.8 rebounds (third-best), and dished out 6.0 assists (fourth-best). He followed that up by reaching the esteemed 50-40-90 platform with his efficiency percentages. That signifies an elite shooter and scorer.
While players like Devin Booker and Trae Young ranked ahead of Irving this season, those are at least reasonable points that can be backed up by data and argued over. The fact that Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum, and Paul George rank ahead of Irving has officially made him underrated.
As good as Middleton is, you could make an argument that Holiday had as much impact on that Milwaukee championship as he did, and putting him over Irving seems like a prisoner of the moment take.
Tatum is a star in this league and the unquestioned best player of the Celtics, but rebounds per game ended up as the only traditional box score average in which he exceeded Irving. Kyrie also put those numbers up with Durant and Harden taking shots away on a team that beat Boston in the postseason. What are we missing here?
While George appeared to finally play some solid playoff basketball with the Clippers this past season, and his per-game averages are nothing to sneeze at, it’s unlikely that even the staunchest of Clippers fans would put him above Irving on a list like this.
He might not be the best defensive player in the world, but what he can provide on the offensive end from a statistical and schematic point of view, despite all of the talent around him, is exemplary.
Yes, Irving may rub some people the wrong way (oftentimes for justifiable reasons and oftentimes not), but that shouldn’t force analysts to say that he is only a fringe top-20 player. In fact, he’s closer to top-15 than top-20, and anyone saying otherwise is just trying to get a rise out of people.
The best way for Irving to pump up his rating on next year’s list is to avoid the injury pitfalls that have plagued him so far in his career, continue shooting at a very efficient clip, and help the Nets make a run in the postseason. Perhaps that will wake up the ESPN talking heads and help them remember what a unique talent this man can be on his best day.