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Now That Kyrie Irving Is A Celtic, What Exactly Are They Getting?

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Listen, what’s done is done. The reality is, we as Celtics fans have entered the Kyrie Irving Era whether you are a fan of the trade or not. I’m going to have a full Isaiah tribute this weekend as part of the Weekend Greenie Bag, so I want to spend some time really looking at who Kyrie is as a player, what he does well, what he doesn’t do well, and how he might fit into this system. I hear a lot of people say Kyrie is better, and as a result the Celtics are better, but they never follow up. They never say why. We should talk about it.

Before we get started, let me make myself 100% clear. I like Kyrie Irving. I think he’s a really fucking good basketball player. I’m just not totally convinced this trade gets you over the hump. I’m not sure you’re better than CLE today. I also hate the fact that we as fans have to spend the next two years freaking out if he’s going to extend or not. The Celtics didn’t trade for a scrub by any means, in all honesty they traded for a younger Isaiah, so that’s exciting. But he’s not perfect. This team still isn’t perfect. I can say I prefer moving these assets for a player like Kyrie over someone like Butler or Paul George this summer. At the moment, to me it’s an overpay, but there is every opportunity for the Celtics to win this trade if things work out. Now, let’s dive in.

We’ll start with what we know, and that’s Kyrie’s contract situation. He’s signed for two more years and has a player option in Year 3 (which he 100% is opting out of to sign a new deal). This is significant for a couple reasons. The first being, things just got a whole lot easier when it comes to resigning Marcus Smart. Even with Kyrie’s $20M salary next year, the Celtics have $107M committed in salary. Of their cap holds (Marcus, Baynes, Dixon, White, Larkin), Marcus is the only Free Agent the Celtics need to worry about next year, which all should guarantee he’ll be back. I still hope they extend him before the summer to avoid an offer sheet, but even if they have to max him, they should be OK. What I don’t think is possible is signing Marcus AND still getting a stud non Celtics Free Agent, so while Kyrie being cheaper helps you keep Marcus, that’s probably all it does.

The second key part of this trade from a contract perspective is we own Kyrie’s Bird rights. This means, when he opts out in 2019, the Celtics can go over the cap to keep him should he choose to stay. In 2019, the only main players that are Free Agents will be Terry Rozier, who you can’t really afford to not resign unless things change with this roster. So let’s say Kyrie is here for the long term, what exactly are the Celtics getting?

I think the hope we as Celtics fans have, is that Brad can do for Kyrie what he has done for literally every other player he’s touched. It’s silly to think Brad didn’t play a major role in turning Isaiah into an All NBA player, so if Kyrie truly buys in, he should have that same impact. But make no mistake, to fit int his system, Kyrie is going to have to adjust how he plays. There is a drastic difference in going from being with Lebron and what the Cavs do, to how the Celtics prefer to play.

Right off the bat, Kyrie is going to have to become a more willing passer. The Celtics offense is all about motion, moving the ball, and creating space for penetration. This isn’t to say Isaiah wasn’t a shoot first point guard, he was, but it’s not really debatable he was at least a more willing passer and his assist% proves it. My initial concern is that as Kyrie adapts to this system, he is going to fall back into his isolation habits. Remember, Isaiah ran isolation just 9% of the time, where Kyrie was at 21%. That is not going to fly within this offense. The good news is his production in this area was eerily similar to Isaiah.

– Kyrie Irving in ISO: 1.12 points per possession 47% FG% 11.7 FT frequency 49.6% Score frequency

– Isaiah Thomas in ISO: 1.12 points per possession 45% FG% 20.8% FT frequency 51.7% Score frequency

So ideally, the Celtics should not see a dropoff in this type of offense with Irving, but it is a concern that it could change the Celts offense in a way I’m not sure makes them better.

The other area that is going to be important for Irving is how he develops in the Pick and Roll. This is an area in which Isaiah was elite. He ranked in the 94th percentile as the P&R ball handler, and they ran it 34% of the time. Kyrie will be used to that frequency, the Cavs ran it 34% of the time, but he finished in the 82nd percentile. The high screen and roll/pop with Horford is the lifeline of this offense, and it worked so well not only because Isaiah was great at finishing out of it, but that he was also a willing passer. This is where Brad’s really going to have to come through. The Celtics need Kyrie to play the P&R more like Isaiah did last year, and less like he did for the Cavs. Again, there’s no reason to think he can’t improve, just like Isaiah did, but at this moment in time, he’s a notch below in terms of P&R offense.

What they are getting in Irving is someone who may not be as efficient at the moment, is a better outside shooter in terms of percentages. A lot of the time Isaiah got in trouble with those transition threes, and Kyrie doesn’t really do that. Part of his success had to do with playing with Lebron/Love who create space and got him open looks, but Kyrie should have the same sort of space Isaiah just had if not more, so that’s encouraging. This team loves to shoot threes like you read about, so getting a player who in theory can shoot it at a higher clip is a good thing.

We also know Brad loves versatility. He does not subscribe to the idea that you have to conform to traditional basketball. I think this is going to help when it comes to Kyrie because he is used to playing off the ball. I think we could see times where we have Hayward initiate offense, and then when Smart is in the game it’s the same thing. If Kyrie thinks he’s coming to Boston to play point and only point and have the ball in his hands 24/7, that simply isn’t going to be the case. His ability to play off the ball is what makes him valuable. His size makes it a little bit easier to match him up against opposing SGs, and his outside shooting make him a legit threat.

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On the defensive side, Kyrie is a guy that isn’t going to blow you away. For him, it’s not a physical issue like it was for Isaiah, it’s an effort thing. It’s almost as if he chooses to not try hard on defense. Well, given who the Celtics have lost this summer, Kyrie can’t play like that. It won’t be hard for him to produce better defensive metrics than Isaiah, but for this trade to truly make the Celtics better, he has to actually be a real life defensive upgrade. Not just in theory. I don’t care if he’s taller and bigger if it doesn’t translate. When you look at the advanced defensive metrics, you see basically exactly what Isaiah did. Virtually same steal%, blk%, defensive win shares, and defensive rating. Part of me wants to believe a lot of Kyrie’s issues were due to he knew he had Lebron and a rim protector so he didn’t really try. Well on the Celtics he has neither of those things, so I’m hoping to be surprised.

We know we have a guy who can go toe to toe with anyone in the league in the playoffs, and that’s a good thing. This isn’t to say Isaiah couldn’t or didn’t do that, we just saw him do it, but there is no denying Kyrie is one of the players in the league that elevates once the postseason starts. That’s something that was a concern with certain guys on last year’s roster. Kelly didn’t really elevate, Jae didn’t really elevate, and Avery was inconsistent. If we know anything about Kyrie, it’s that he CONSISTENTLY balls out on the highest stage when the pressure is highest. That’s key moving forward.

It’s also important that we talk about health. A lot is made about Isaiah’s hip, and how he will break down as he gets older, and I get those concerns. At the same time, we shouldn’t act like Kyrie is the epitome of health. He’s never played more than 75 games in a season, and has missed over 100 games in 6 years. This all happened when he’d young, so I think it is fair to be slightly concerned with how he ages as well. Would it be a stretch to call him injury prone? I’m not sure, but it’s not something we can completely ignore.

But like I said, we can’t forget about some of glaring issues this team still has. Take their matchup with CLE for example. You would say a couple big factors as to why the Celts couldn’t beat CLE was their lack of rebounding and ability to contain Lebron right? After this trade, what has changed? The Celtics lost a 7fter, lost a two way player to throw at Lebron, and completely revamped their bench with rookies. This is why I initially had such a problem with this trade. Losing IT hurt sure, but when the dust settled and you looked at these rosters, none of those problems are really addressed. I think it’s fair to say this trade makes the Celtics better 2 years from now if Kyrie resigns, but in the present day? I still think CLE is going to present the exact same challenges.

So look, is it OK to like the player but still have a hard time with the trade? I think so. There are still a ton of unknowns that need to unfold before we know who truly won this trade. But at the end of the day if Ainge feels this is the best direction to go in, we have to trust him. We (myself included) don’t get to pick and choose when to trust Ainge as much as what he does may make us sad. Ainge and the Celts were clearly concerned about Isaiah’s hip, and found an elite player that fits their timeline. That’s what I want my GM to do.  Now if they can’t resign him and that BKN pick falls in the top 3, this trade is a complete and utter disaster. The same way if Isaiah never is the same and the pick is like 8 and Kyrie resigns, the Celtics win this deal in a landslide. It’s just too early to know on August 23rd.

Ainge finally cashed in his chips, he brought in a hell of a player who if he buys in and develops like Isaiah did, will be just as good for the Celtics as Isaiah was. Kyrie wanted to be THE MAN, he wanted to show that he could win without Lebron, well this is his chance. In my opinion the current Kyrie doesn’t get you over the hump, but if you had to pick a young point guard to develop for your next window, he’s on that short list.

All we can do is hope for the best.