The biggest assist of the Brooklyn Nets’ season has come from an unlikely source who is not even on their team.
New York Mayor Eric Adams is expected to relax their COVID-19 vaccination mandate before the end of this week. This will provide exemptions for unvaccinated professional athletes and entertainers–most notably and notoriously the Nets’ star guard Kyrie Irving.
It’s been a roller coaster of a season for Brooklyn, from Irving’s well-documented vaccine hesitancy to James Harden’s trade demands, but things seem to finally be changing for the better. The seven-time NBA All-Star Irving can now suit up for the Nets’ home games just in time for the looming postseason.
The Nets were already one of, if not the most dangerous teams in the Eastern Conference even with Irving’s road-games-only limitation. Now that the ban on him playing at the Barclays Center has been lifted, there is really no limit to what this team can do.
Prior to their most recent loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Brooklyn won six of their prior eight games. They currently sport a 38-35 record that is good for eighth in the East. The Nets trail the sixth seed Cleveland Cavaliers by 4.5 games with only nine contests remaining on their regular season schedule. Although it is still statistically possible for them to catch up, it is highly unlikely at this point in time and they will most probably have to go through the play-in tournament to secure their playoff spot.
Much has been said about Irving’s mixed availability and the additional play-in games should be a blessing in disguise for them as it will give them an opportunity to further strengthen their chemistry with him.
Irving and 12-time NBA All-Star Kevin Durant were already the most feared offensive duo in the league and their partnership should only grow stronger with these developments.
The 2016 NBA champion Irving is averaging a career-high 27.7 points per game this season along with 4.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists despite having to play an irregular schedule consisting of only road games. He is in the thick of his prime, having just turned 30 years old a day ago, and is only getting better.
This month, the 6’2 guard scored 50 points versus the Charlotte Hornets then followed it up with 60 against the Orlando Magic just a week later. What makes these two performances even more breathtaking is that Irving did it on extremely efficient shooting percentages and was far from a ball-hog on both occasions. He was at it again in their match with the Grizzlies where he had 43 points on 15-of-27 shooting and eight assists albeit in a losing effort.
Irving alone is enough to give opposing defenses nightmares which makes the presence of the 33-year-old Durant even more deadly. The 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player may be the only player who has a case over Irving in the discussion on the best pure scorer in the league today as he has shown no signs of slowing down.
Durant is averaging 29.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.1 assists which are notable improvements over his numbers last year when he made his return from an Achilles injury that sidelined him throughout the ‘19-’20 campaign.
The greatness of these two is amplified even more by the skillsets of their veteran supporting cast. Bruce Brown has emerged from a quiet start to the season to rediscover his feisty style of play that endeared him to fans during last year’s playoffs.
March has been Brown’s best month of the season by far with averages of 15 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. His willingness to do the dirty work on both ends of the floor is key on this team that is not lacking for top shelf talent.
The introduction of Seth Curry’s outside shooting and Andre Drummond’s intimidating physical presence from the James Harden trade has also plugged a few holes for this team. Curry, who is shooting 47.1% from three in 13 games with Brooklyn, gives them another elite shooter along with Patty Mills that will keep defenses honest. He was also a teammate of Irving’s while they both played for Duke University which should help smoothen their on-court transition as well.
On the other hand, the two-time NBA All-Star Drummond has turned into a journeyman at 28 years old, but his ability to clog the lane with his massive frame is invaluable to this team that lacks a true center. He will not be needed to score the ball or create shots, which are among his biggest weaknesses, and this should only allow him to become even more effective on this team.
Even without Ben Simmons, the centerpiece of the package that they received for Harden and currently sidelined by a herniated disc, this team is already one to reckon with. The 6’11 Simmons will theoretically make them even more difficult to keep up with, though they should be fine in the meantime.
Irving’s return to “full-time” status is a welcome development and firmly repositions them as a bona fide contender for this year’s title. Things seem to finally be going the Nets’ way, but if this season has taught the NBA world anything, a few weeks of turmoil can derail even the most well thought of plans.