It might not have ended the way he or the fans hoped, but Kyrie Irving’s first season with the Boston Celtics was, in many ways, a success. They didn’t win a championship. He didn’t even play in the playoffs, due to some unfortunate luck and needed surgery. Even with all of that, he finally got the chance to be the Guy, which is what he wanted when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers via trade. It went much better this time around than his first few years in the league. It wasn’t enough. Kyrie isn’t interested in just being the Guy. He wants to be the Guy on the team that wins it all. With the Cavs and the Toronto Raptors in flux, the Celtics are uniquely positioned to own the Eastern Conference for at least the next few years. It all starts with this offseason.
Starting with defense
What was most surprising about Kyrie this past season was his marked improvement on the defensive side of the ball. He’s never been known for that. This year, his defensive rating jumped from 109.1 to 103.4. It’s still not a great rating, and stats like defensive rating aren’t perfect, but it demonstrates that he made a more concerted effort on that end of the floor. It was easy to see when watching the games. It’s possible that he took it on himself to put more effort in after the injury to Gordon Hayward sapped the team of one of its three biggest veterans. Regardless, he needs to continue this trend.
Imagine a world where Irving is genuinely good at defense. I don’t think we’ll ever see it since he rightfully dedicates so much time and energy to his offensive game. Let’s just imagine for a bit. If Irving puts in some work this offseason and performs even better on defense next season. It would only help the team reach its lofty goals. He should spend this offseason not only rehabbing his knee from the surgery, but getting more work in on defense and fine tuning his technique. He’ll never be elite at it, but if he can up his play, and, in theory, up the play of his teammates, they’ll be even tougher to beat. They already had the number one defense in the NBA, so getting better would make them into a championship caliber team.
Irving hasn’t been cleared yet to resume normal basketball activities, so his offseason will be a bit shortened. Once he’s back on the court, he needs to get back up to game speed and add some more wrinkles to his defensive game. I’m going to keep saying it. Imagine if he was a good defender. Just imagine it.