Last season the Kyrie Irving hype machine reached a fever pitch. I was a huge part of it. Heading into his third season, people were projecting incredible things. There was talk that if you were to build around a single player in the league outside of LeBron James or Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving would be your guy. ESPN's NBARank projected him to be the 8th best player in the whole NBA.
On the surface, Irving's third year and age 21 season was an individual success. For his third straight year he averaged 18 points and five assists, which ESPN stats and info indicates has only been done by Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Steve Francis, and Grant Hill. He was voted in as All-Star game starter for the East and won Most Valuable Player. Still, though, an incredibly bad November doomed him to lower shooting percentages than he was accustomed to, and while I felt I saw defensive improvement, it was a constant source of criticism and consternation among NBA observers. Irving either regressed or plateaued, is the common sentiment.
Now, that's not my view of what happened. In March I wrote that Irving might be making the third year leap after all. After going off against the Knicks in early December, this is what he did:
Kyrie Irving walked into Madison Square Garden that night and scored 37 points on 23 shots, and handed out 11 assists to just one turnover. For the most part, he hasn't looked back. Starting with that night in Gotham, Irving is shooting 45/40/91 over 39 games for a true shooting percentage that exceeds what he accomplished in his first two seasons in the league. His turnover rate of 10.9% in that time is significantly lower than the 14.7% rate from his first two years.
It didn't save him from the criticism, and ESPN has now ranked him as the 23rd best player for this upcoming season.
Here's the thing for me: I almost never get worked about awards or rankings or accolades. I just don't really care. If the player is good enough, eventually the respect comes. Kyrie won the FIBA World Cup. Kyrie is shooting 53/43/93 and has just four turnovers in his first three preseason games. If this ranking is too low, well, the world will know soon enough.