Has Kyrie Irving lived up to expectations this season?
Irving has exceeded them. I’m not sure what everybody’s expectations were, but the Celtics are the best team in the conference and the lion’s share of the credit goes to Irving. He was placed in a not great situation from the get-go – Hayward goes down, the team looks dead in the water for two games. Boston traded its best defensive player for a stiff who has missed half the games. There is a rookie and a sophomore in the starting lineup with him who looked positively pedestrian when Irving was dinged up the other night against Philadelphia. He’s an All-Star starter, a regular Curly Neal-esque highlight reel and has been more than passable defensively.
Short answer, yes. Irving did something that a lot of players wouldn’t have the courage to do. He requested a trade from the King and moved to his own team, and the Boston Celtics are reaping those rewards. On offense, Kyrie is still Kyrie. He’s been cooking this season, with no one defender being able to completely shut him down. Irving is shooting the three very well and is as crafty as ever. On defense, there is a lot more effort by Irving to make the right play. Some of that can be credited to Brad Stevens, but Irving deserves every bit of credit he receives. With the Celtics succeeding and Cleveland struggling to stay afloat, Irving is looking better and more valuable by the day.
Irving has led the charge into the next phase of the Brad Stevens Era in miraculous fashion. With new faces and missing parts, this year’s Celtics are reliant not only on their league-best defense, but they’re also more than dependent on Irving to be the catalyst of their offense. Bearing so much responsibility on one end of the floor, Kyrie continues to put up numbers that rank him among the league’s best in efficiency and true shooting percentage – all while leading the conference’s top team to the second-best record in the NBA. With such little time to gel and brutal adversity faced on the very first game of the season, the Celtics are living up to – and in many ways exceeding – outside expectations. Much of that success is due in large part to the leadership and on-court abilities Kyrie Irving has brought to the team.
If you compare Irving’s numbers this season with Isaiah Thomas’ from last season, they look somewhat similar and you can easily make the case that Thomas had a greater impact on last season’s squad than Irving has had on this one. That doesn’t diminish the 25-year old’s contributions, which have transcended the stat sheet. Much of Irving’s offensive success – much like Thomas’ from last season – is tied to Al Horford and his ability to create space. When Irving sits, the Celtics’ offense dwindles into an unwatchable mess. The out-of-this-world handles and off-balanced layups were expected, yet it has been the little things – like his off-ball screens and his second and third efforts on defense – that have helped Irving meet my lofty expectations of him.
Is Jayson Tatum the most untouchable Celtic at the moment?
Walsh: After I just waxed poetic about Kyrie earlier? Tatum is absolutely the most untouchable player on the team right now. I’m not sure what state I have to move to where it would be legal for me to marry his game, but my bags are packed. I can’t imagine the next 10 years of my life without getting to watch that kid play basketball on a regular basis. He’s just so long and smooth and confident. Since Game 1 when he got put in his place by LeBron James I don’t think I’ve seen him shy away from anything. With all due respect, though, he’s not untouchable. His numbers are good – not great – and they’re inflated by the devastating Irving-Horford pairing. In today’s NBA, if you’re not a 7-footer who can run, shoot and protect the rim, there is someone out there better than you.
Perkins: I would not trade Tatum for anyone in the league. I say this with a grain of salt because of course I would trade Tatum straight up for Anthony Davis, but I would not build a package around him. Tatum is making it clearer day after day that he is going to be a superstar in this league. Tatum is already so crafty and talented from all three levels that his ceiling is vague. All I know is that it’s extremely high. People will hate this, but the Celtics might have their own Kevin Durant/Paul George brewing. Tatum is simply not worth trading. Jaylen Brown is also pretty much untouchable, at least in my book.
Gignac: As learned this summer, no one is ever truly untouchable on the Celtics roster. With that said, genuine potential is difficult to come by in the NBA. Tatum has the potential to be a special part of the Celtics for years and years to come. There is some belief that Tatum may be hitting the rookie wall – despite being third on the team in scoring with only the sixth highest usage rate on the team. Despite the serious case for Brown and Tatum being untouchable – and the not so serious case for Terry Rozier – my money has always been on Marcus Smart being held in serious regard by Boston’s front office. Untouchable? Only time will tell, but what Smart does to affect a game goes well beyond the stat sheet. “[Smart] is a guy that figures out ways to win,” Brad Stevens said earlier this season. “Sometimes that you can look at conventionally and other times not. There’s a reason he’s in the game when the game is on the line.”
Prescott: Because Danny Ainge would trade his sons if the opportunity was there to better the team, NO ONE is untouchable. Slightly behind Irving as the team’s most untouchable player given Kyrie’s age (25) and room for even more growth, I had flashbacks to Paul Pierce the first moment I saw Tatum hit a step-back jumper in an opponent’s eye. From his advanced footwork to his propensity to make the right play time and time again to his effortless ability to glide to the rim, Tatum has proven to Celtics fans that he’s not only well beyond his years as a basketball player, but that he’s also a pivotal part of the Celtics’ future.
The 2018 All-Star rosters are official. pic.twitter.com/tgTRAmpKM3
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 26, 2018
Your 10 All Star Game starters in short summary
- Kyrie Irving: Best player on the East’s best team
- Victor Oladipo: Reward guys who make teams better than they should be.
- DeMar DeRozan: 25 and 5 assists a night for a .698 winning percentage team and he’s actually shooting, and hitting, some 3s now.
- LeBron James: Dude, c’mon.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo: Most unstoppable force in the league right now.
- Russell Westbrook: Daily triple-double
- Jimmy Butler: Impact is undeniable.
- James Harden: MVP
- Kevin Durant: Second most unstoppable force in the league.
- LaMarcus Aldridge: Spurs are 32-18, Kawhi has played nine games.
- LeBron James: Repetitive Dominance
- Giannis Antetokounmpo: Freak.
- Kyrie Irving: LEADER
- DeMar DeRozan: Low-key.
- Joel Embiid: Hell yeah.
- Steph Curry: Swish.
- Anthony Davis: The Prince.
- DeMarcus Cousins: Crazy
- Kevin Durant: 1B
- James Harden: Too Much
- Kyrie Irving: Best player on the East’s best team.
- DeMar DeRozan: Hitting another level as a player.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo: Un-guardable
- LeBron James: Wait, he’s doing this in year No. 15?
- Joel Embiid: Bye Rihanna
- James Harden: Need to see him succeed in the playoffs.
- Stephen Curry: Quietly putting up gaudy numbers.
- Kevin Durant: Averaging 2.1 blocks per game and playing center more and more.
- Anthony Davis: Posting the best shooting numbers of his career.
- LaMarcus Aldridge: Enjoying a renaissance at age 32.
— Celtics on CLNS (@CelticsCLNS) January 19, 2018
Pierce v. IT in Video Tribute Gate – Who ya got?
Walsh: Nobody is really in the wrong. Pierce deserves his own day. What he sacrificed, stuck it out through and accomplished just doesn’t happen anymore. Isaiah is a monster created by Danny Ainge and the insular Boston fans, but I honestly think he was just thinking about his family and wanted his kids to see the reception. Not sure he knew what it meant when he rejected the initial video date. Now they’re both being blowhards, but Pierce has a microphone in front of him too often and Thomas is dealing with the reality of what he is as a player and the general dysfunction of being in the mess of a franchise known as the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Gignac: Understanding just how impactful Pierce’s tenure with Boston was and how his play evolved cannot be understated. Boston was able to witness an immature at times young man become a leader and savior for a once struggling storied franchise, for 15 seasons. Yes, Isaiah Thomas only played 179 games to Pierce’s massive workload of 1,102 for the Green – no one is doubting or even trying to diminish the accolades and success Pierce achieved. I simply want to acknowledge the passing of a torch that allowed Boston to quickly rebuild on the back of the Pierce/KG trade to Brooklyn. By facilitating a trade instead of riding off into the sunset as a 39-year old and retiring a career-long Celtic, Pierce accepted his fate and was able to sacrifice in order to help the organization get back on its feet. Isaiah & Paul will be forever connected, whether they want to or not.
Perkins: Have go with both here. Do I believe Pierce has earned the right to have an entire night dedicated to himself? Yes, of course. But I think people are not realizing the impact IT has had on the Celtics, specifically their future. IT was a great recruiter, he brought Al Horford and Gordon Hayward to Boston. IT established the gritty culture that the team shows today. Isaiah was a treasure in Boston, and in five years this argument could be different. What I think should happen is the night should be dedicated to Pierce, but not one person at the Garden should be upset with a three-to-five minute highlight of Thomas. We should celebrate both of them. Pierce needs to stop being so petty and whiny, and Isaiah needs to realize he’s not a Celtic anymore. Either way, all I care about on Feb. 11 is a win over Cleveland.
Prescott: The Truth Has Spoken