Brooklyn Nets Training Camp: Kyrie Irving Takes the Court
Brooklyn's new guard had missed first three days of training camp
On day four of training camp at HSS Training Center, the Nets welcomed new point guard Kyrie Irving into the action for his first official practice with the team. The free agent floor general had been held out for the first few days for precautionary reasons after talking an elbow to the face in a player workout last week.
But those sessions had been ongoing for the middle of the summer, speeding the acclimation between Irving and new teammates, allowing Irving to make a smooth entry into things on Tuesday.
"He did a lot before he took the inadvertent elbow,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “From a physical standpoint, and the good thing with that is he’s still running and doing his conditioning, so he really didn’t skip a beat when he came back.”
“We’ve been together having open gym for a while now, so, being in shape, having an expectational level of play, some of the scripted things we’re running through now, we’ve run through before,” said Irving. “We just have a great feel. Obviously, it’s still game-like that we have to get used to, but it’s really fun just to be out here with the guys and officially starting this, that’s what I was waiting for.”
Irving wore a mask during the session and said he wasn’t sure how long that would continue, or if it would last into the regular season. And while he was excited to be on the practice court, he does not expect to play in Friday’s preseason opener at Barclays Center.
“I’ve gotten hit in my face a few times,” said Irving. “When I took that shot in practice, it really rang an alarm in my head. I knew it was something different. I have three fractures under (my left eye) and one fracture by my nose (points to left side of bridge). I know it doesn’t look it, but my face is still broken. So, for me, it’s just being safe, making sure I have my mask on. If I don’t wear it, it’s obviously putting me at a higher chance of getting hit and having further damage. So, I don’t want that to occur.”
While the Nets knew they would be waiting awhile for Kevin Durant to join them on the court, the brief delay with Irving was unexpected. His debut makes whole the roster that the Nets expect to have available on opening night against Minnesota on Oct. 23.
And after two days of Irving and Durant observing and occasionally chiming in, Brooklyn welcomed the six-time All-Star and 2018-19 All-NBA Second Team selection to the floor. Atkinson and DeAndre Jordan felt the difference with Irving in action, and it was his goal to elevate the intensity.
“It’s a different energy,” said Irving. “You get the wheels going a little bit. Obviously, they had three great days of practice, but I’ve been kind of chomping at the bit because I just want to get guys used to the physicality of the next level of play that we’re going to be challenged to be at during the regular season, people coming in here to Brooklyn, us going on the road. It’s just an identity thing right now for us, developing that, getting the continuity, the newness out and then just playing basketball and having fun.”
With Irving, the Nets have added one of the NBA’s elite offensive talents, a gifted shot-creator. He’s a career 22.2 points per game scorer who, after averaging a career-high 25.2 points in his final season in Cleveland playing alongside LeBron James in 2016-17, was the clear No. 1 option in Boston the last two seasons, where he averaged 24.4 and 23.8 points, respectively, in addition to a career-high 6.9 assists per game last season.
As much as he’s known for his skill and creativity in breaking down defenders to get to the rim, Irving is a career 39.0 percent 3-point shooter. Last season he shot 45.4 percent on 3-point catch-and-shoot opportunities, the fourth-highest mark in the league for players with at least 3.0 attempts per game. That aspect of his game is something Atkinson had raised on Monday.
“I just want to be an option,” said Irving. “I don’t mind playing the one, two or three off the ball or anything like that, offensive rebounding, just utilizing my style of play to get other guys shots, being a screener, being a back-screener. Anything that I can utilize for our offense to be more fluent, I’m going to get guys shots, I’m willing to do. But also, I’m going to give guys space to be special. Caris (LeVert) is one of those guys, Spencer (Dinwiddie) is one of those guys, Joe (Harris) also can come off the screen to shoot. We’ve watched a lot of likeness of other players and tried to implement it in our game.
“For me, I was in an offense last year that was really structured around pick-and-pops or coming off down-screens. I had to be really adept to coming off those screens and shooting and not thinking about it. So, I was playing a Joe Harris spot at certain times in Boston where they would pin-down for me and I would be ready to shoot. Shooters have that green light where, even if you’re not particularly open and you have a hand in your face, you’ve still got to shoot it. And Kenny wants the same thing – high volume threes as well as getting a lot of layups. Now, I can sprinkle in a lot of my mid-range and just utilize my talent.”
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