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The Developing All-Star - as a Celtic, Kyrie Irving is becoming an MVP calibre player

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Thousands of times during the six-and-a-bit seasons of his NBA career, Kyrie Irving has faced the most binary of choices.

To go left. Or go right.

More often than not, it has been an instinctive choice for the four-time All Star whose skill with hand dribbling ball is a candidate for the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Coming off the Cleveland Cavaliers defeat in the 2017 NBA Finals, the Melbourne-born point guard was left to ponder another two-pronged fork in the road.

To stay. Or to depart.

Remain at the only professional team he’d ever known, along side one of the best players we’ve ever seen, to contend for – and possibly secure – further championships.

Or to take an astonishing leap of faith, to strike out elsewhere, injecting his talents and flaws into an alternative ecosystem, one which might allow him to further flourish – or perhaps instead might see him decay.

If it was a gamble to push for a trade, and then see the roulette wheel stick on green, then his nerve is paying off.

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks

With the Boston Celtics, Irving is piling up the chips. And he can finally chase a prize that may never have been his in Cleveland: Most Valuable Player.

Only once in the past 25 seasons has a first-time MVP in the league represented anyone other than the team who nursed him through rookie pains.

That time, Steve Nash bolted Dallas for Phoenix and never looked back, flourishing in the freedom to plot his own path for a coach who deployed his verve to maximum effect.

Sub out Mike D’Antoni, wave in Brad Stevens, and see a reimagining of the benefits of a change of scene.

Irving is shooting over 49%, a career-high, and scoring 24.7 points per night while logging less minutes than last term in Ohio. All this for a Celtics team with the NBA’s best record as they prepare for a relatively soft Yuletide schedule that includes the late-Christmas Day clash with the Washington Wizards.

When Gordon Hayward was felled barely minutes into the season, the doomsayers immediately emerged to proclaim that Boston was dead in the water.

Doubt Stevens, the league’s emerging coaching savant, at your peril. But if they wondered aloud if Kyrie 2.0 could lead a side in such circumstances, they question no longer.

This is not the Irving of his younger days, when all the scoring in the world couldn’t drag a dreadful Cavaliers team out of the abyss. It doesn't need to be. The Cs, even minus Hayward, still have weapons aplenty.

And their playmaker-in-chief has proven a much more destructive force than ever before.

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics

"He certainly has always been a guy that's been capable of scoring," Stevens told reporters recently. "That was something that you knew coming in. Everybody you talked to and watching him it was pretty clear that he was always going to be able to score the ball.

“Doing so at that moment, you never know exactly how guys will to react to that, but he has a great balance of - he's got a good fearlessness, he's got a great demeanour, and he's obviously extremely skilled.”

In more ways than perhaps Stevens and team president Danny Ainge expected when they opted to give up the beloved Isaiah Thomas and give Irving a whirl.

They knew Irving was a drive-first, pass-later, iso-loving kinda guy whose mid-range game was streakier than bacon. Reliant on speed and on his handle to open doors rather than integrating himself into the flow of the game. A function, of course, of Cleveland’s pondering offense where LeBron Watching became a clip on repeat.

Now he moves without the ball with greater ease, less reliant on pick-and-rolls and deadlier on catch-and-shoots (hence the higher conversion rate) with significant rises in the percentage of his points coming from threes (31.1 last season to 34.0 this) and a huge decrease in scoring from midrange (21.6 to 13.7).

"It literally depends on where you are and what the team needs,” he reflected. “The position that you're in - in order to sacrifice yourself at times for cuts or running into the corner.

“The little things that matter to the team in order to get other guys opportunities, I'm willing to do. It's just being a basketball player, being able to adjust.”

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c/o nbasavant.com

Emerging from James’s King-sized shadow, the impact - particularly in a revamped Celtics line-up - has been more potent than Lucky The Leprechaun could have wished for.

Last season, Irving was 23rd in win shares, unbefitting of an All Star starter. This season, however, he sits fourth, trailing only James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and his former running mate with the Cavs.

And if that isn’t enough to thrust the 2014 FIBA World Cup winner into the MVP chatter alone, then his defensive evolution should have the final word.

It was no secret that Cleveland demanded more from Irving as a stopper and were often left disappointed.

His quickness should have made him a torturous foe. Instead, he was often caught flat-footed.

During his time there, per NBA.com, his average defensive rating was 106.9 (points allowed per 100 possessions), bottoming out last season at 112.

In Boston, though, it has plummeted to 105, and was even lower during the early part of the campaign before the Cs – still with the best overall team rating in the league - hit what Stevens hopes is a temporary blip.

Boston Celtics v Dallas Mavericks

No wonder that potential opponents come NBA Playoff time see them – and Irving - as a viable threat.

“I really like the way they're playing,” Warriors centre Zaza Pachulia affirmed.

“It's very unfortunate that they had this injury with Gordon Hayward, very sad. Hopefully, he's going to be back soon because as a colleague and as an athlete, basketball player, you don't want anybody to go through that pain and the injury."

“But they're still playing high-level. They're still playing great and have really good talent over there. Kyrie is leading this team, really good player. So yeah, it's going to be interesting. As a Conference, there are a couple teams that can definitely have a chance to go to The Finals.”

Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics

It’s not often that a possible MVP comes to a British court. Barely will New Year have passed when the Celtics come to London to square off with the Philadelphia 76ers.

The lucky few who got tickets for the date at The o2 will get a show billed even better than advertised.

They’ll see Kyrie Irving go left. And go right. And march onwards like never before.

Topics:
Isaiah Thomas
Boston Celtics
Atlantic Division
Eastern Conference
NBA
LeBron James
Cleveland Cavaliers
Central Division
Kyrie Irving

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