How Much Do the Brooklyn Nets Stand to Gain From the Return of Kyrie Irving?

Olivier Dumont
Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving
Jan 25, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) reacts during overtime against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Brooklyn Nets have been playing exceptionally well this season. Sitting in first atop of the Eastern Conference standings with a 23-9 record, the Nets have produced a remarkable balance of success predicated on their high-octane offense and elite defense.

Currently ranking Top 10 in the league in points per game (110.5) and field goal percentage (46.8), the Nets have arguably been even better defensively despite their lack of size inside.

Conceding an average of only 106.6 points (10th in the league) on 91.6 field goal attempts allowed per game (28th in the league), the Nets are somehow tied in first in opponent field goal percentage (42.7) and are also first in opponent three-point percentage (31.1).

However, these last few COVID-stricken weeks hampered the Nets’ starting lineup considerably. With three straight games already postponed prior to their 122-115 Christmas Day victory against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Nets at one point had eight of their players enter league and safety protocols for COVID-19, including the likes of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Due to this setback, the Nets have found themselves in a bit of a desperate situation. And as the saying goes, ‘desperate times can call for desperate measures’ and well, the Nets have done just that. On December 17th, ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski announced that Kyrie Irving was going to be reinstated with the Nets as a part-time player for games outside of New York.

Irving, who hasn’t played a single game all season, is still not vaccinated. And because of such, the Nets decided earlier this season that he would not be allowed to be a part of the team’s practices and games until he was eligible to be a full participant.

Understandably, the Nets are not in much of a position when it comes to picking and choosing players they should bring in, seeing how afflicted their lineup was across the board.

That said, considering how well this team was doing without Irving along with the fact that Irving is a very ball-dominant type of player, the Nets are taking a significant gamble with bringing him in, and in the process, are risking the balance that this team has been able to establish.

As one can imagine, this begs the question of just how much do the Nets stand to gain from bringing Irving back. And though it might seem a bit complicated addressing this kind of situation, the answer is rather straightforward and for a few key reasons.

First and foremost, Irving’s offensive role would greatly impact the scoring dynamic Durant and Harden have been able to develop with the rest of the team. Over his career, Irving has illustrated a linear style of play that’s heavily predicated on scoring the basketball and not so much on embracing the playmaking role that comes with being a point guard.

As a result, this poses a major dilemma because instead of fitting into the role the Nets need from him, Irving has shown that he expects the Nets to adapt to the strengths he provides, which, over his short stay in Brooklyn, has not proven to be very effective. And with the Nets finally reaching a nice balance with their two high-scoring playmakers in Durant and Harden, adding Irving would significantly alter the balance the Nets have been able to achieve so far.

Back in late November, when a reporter asked Harden if he’s had to assume more of a greater scoring role due to Irving’s absence, Harden gave a genuine answer and explained that he’s not only trying to figure out his role still, but that it’s been difficult to determine what he needs to do when, be it scoring, playmaking, or running the offense. Just a little over a month later, we’ve seen substantial progress from Harden on that front. But with Irving hopping back into the mix, things would have to change once again after Harden finally got accustomed to his role on the team.

In addition, Irving has yet to show he can be a good perimeter defender. Defensively, the Nets have improved tremendously this season, and Irving’s return could jeopardize that anchoring stability on the perimeter. The Nets have finally found a way to slow down their opponents with really sharp defensive play, and it’s proven to be much more effective than having to rely on their offense to have to outscore opposing teams in a shooting slugfest.

Lastly, Irving’s still not vaccinated. And seeing how rampant this COVID surge has been in the NBA, the Nets are only going to increase their chances of having their team suffer more COVID setbacks with his return.

In all fairness, the Nets have not found it easy to assemble a lot of their key players due to this recent COVID outbreak, and bringing back Irving was a move that was understandably made out of desperation.

But ultimately, the success and equilibrium that this Nets team has been able to accomplish with its play and chemistry is of far greater value and importance than the desperation the Nets have found themselves in. And bringing back Irving would throw off the dynamic of this team significantly.

In short, the Nets should stick to their original decision and refrain from bringing Irving back onto the team until he can fully participate. And as we saw firsthand against the Lakers and now more recently against the Clippers, the Nets have been doing just fine without him.