When the Boston Celtics traded for Kyrie Irving, we knew he would get his hands the ball a lot.
Irving has 22 deflections this season, which not only leads the Celtics (4-2), but ranks third in the league behind Oklahoma City's Paul George (27 deflections) and Indiana's Thaddeus Young (25). Irving is also tied for third in the NBA in loose balls recovered (9).
And while he does gamble at times defensively, it certainly hasn’t significantly hurt his defensive rating this season.
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Irving’s defensive rating is 95.8 which is by far the best it has been since he came into the NBA as the top overall pick in 2011.
Prior to this season, his best defensive rating was 104.5 which came during the 2014-2015 season in Cleveland, his first with LeBron James as a teammate.
Irving is making lots of good reads, seemingly in the right place often at the right time defensively, and the result has been lots of opportunities to disrupt opposing team’s offense.
“I hope those deflections turn into a few more steals so we can start our break,” Irving said. “But, just staying active on the basketball, being able to be at the top of the key as well as impact the ball, off the ball, and understand my defensive pressure can be an aid for us to get timely stops throughout the whole game.”
In Boston’s 96-90 win at Miami on Saturday, Irving was brilliant down the stretch while finishing with a game-high 24 points which included him scoring nine of Boston’s last 10 points.
But lost in his strong performance were three steals and a game-high eight deflections which helped force the usually turnover-low Miami Heat into committing 19 turnovers which Boston converted into 21 points which accounted for 21.9 percent of the Celtics' offense.
Regardless of what Irving does defensively, his offensive game will always be what most people talk about.
But as he continues to grow as a player, as a leader on this Celtics team, the 25-year-old All-Star knows he has to continue to show that he’s more than just an ankle-breaking, finish-at-the-rim scorer who can also knock down the 3-ball if defenses aren't careful.
“When we’re playing against great teams, going against guys that have a lead guard or teams that have a 6-8 point guard, a 6-9 point guard, I’m able to do different things on any given night,” said Irving whose 2.3 steals per game ranks sixth in the NBA this season. “It’s definitely a luxury to have guys that have length on this team that are able to cover up for our mistakes and me able to get my hands on the basketball a few times and turn them into some fast breaks.”