Kyrie Irving was away from the court for seven months because of a knee injury, and apparently he spent that entire time coming up with new ways to destroy defenses. After testing some moves in his first six games, he unleashed the full repertoire on the poor Wizards on Wednesday. The result was a 32-point performance that leaves no doubt that he's as unstoppable as ever.
Irving has been struggling with his outside shot (24 percent for the season, 1-for-4 against Washington). That would make most players much easier to defend, but not a magician with the best ball-handling and body control in the league. Everyone knows Irving is going to put the ball on the floor and go to the rim, and yet no one can stop him. He's averaging almost nine drives per game on just a little over 24 minutes and shooting 56 percent on the looks that result from them, per NBA.com's player tracking stats.
Irving's ability to finish over bigger defenders by any means necessary can be attributed to his great touch and black magic. His shooting percentages close to the basket over the years have always been impressive, considering he's a point guard who plays below the rim, but no stat can accurately capture what makes Irving special. It really is something that needs to be seen.
With the normal camera angle, this play seems simple. Irving got past his defender and finished with a layup. But look at the other angle. He jumped off the wrong foot from close to the free throw line, which on its own adds difficulty to the finish. Then, he hung in mid-air as he decided which hand to finish with on which side of the rim.
Let's be clear: there was no one there. Irving could have just gone for a simple finger roll. But that would have been too boring for a warlock like Kyrie.
Critics might say, "He could only afford to get fancy there because there was no big man in the paint." Yet, having a big man trying to contain him only offers Kyrie another opportunity to pull off something silly.
Poor Nene thought Irving was going to do the rational thing and go right. That'd be away from the defender coming in to help on the left side. Instead, one crossover and one power dribble later, Kyrie is all alone at the basket once again, this time finishing with his left hand. Look at Garrett Temple's confusion after the play. Even he can't understand how Irving managed to get past two defenders in such tight space.
Sometimes the player guarding Irving will manage to stay with him when he drives, at least for a little while. Little do they know that's just what Irving wants.
What are those shots? On the first, Ramon Sessions thought he was playing good defense, but he was simply Irving's prop for an and-one. On the second, Jared Dudley did play good defense, but Irving still got him out of the way before hitting an acrobatic right-handed layup. It must be so demoralizing to think you have Kyrie under control, only to see him score with some absurd flip shot no matter what you do. Don't think for a second Kyrie isn't aware of that.
Sometimes, it looks like he's just playing with his defender. He will look out of control one second, like an overwhelmed ball handler who can be rattled by a reach-in. But it's all a ruse, clearly, because he typically roasts the defense seconds after.
Kyrie really is an evil genius. Look at this play from the previous game against Toronto, in which he lured young, naive Cory Joseph into a false sense of security, only to crush him later:
Irving has the full package on offense, as he can hit threes and mid-range pull-ups as well. But the fact that he can get to the rim and convert shots with high degrees of difficulty is what makes him such a hard player to guard, not to mention so exhilarating to watch. At least a couple of times per game, he will leave everyone -- audience and players alike -- wondering how the hell he just did that.
Through no fault of his own, Irving found himself involved in a small controversy, as early returns on All-Star voting had him in one of the starting spots despite him missing most of the season with injury. LeBron James dismissed the critics by saying his teammate is "the best point guard in our league," but he really didn't need to chime in this time. Irving's play has done enough to show why fans want to see him perform at the exhibition.
He makes every game look like the All-Star Game.
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