Kyrie Irving is doing more in fewer minutes for the Celtics
Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving has been putting on a show this season in his new city of Boston. As the go-to option under Brad Stevens, Irving is having what may be his best year of his career. Yet, he's logging fewer minutes than 54 other players in the league.
Kyrie's 24.2 points per game are the second-best mark of his career, trailing only his 25.2 average from last year. At the same time, he's taking almost two fewer shots as a Celtic than he was in his final run with the Cavaliers, which attests to his efficiency. In fact, Kyrie's 49.2% field goal percentage is by far his best ever. Considering this, there's a strong argument that from an offensive perspective (at least scoring and shooting), this has been his most impressive campaign of his career thus far.
This makes it even more head-scratching that there are 54 NBA players averaging more minutes than Kyrie. His 32.1 MPG is the lowest since his rookie year (excluding 2015-16 when he was heavily limited due to injury). If you adjust his stats to per 36 minutes to take playing time into account, Kyrie's scoring jumps to a career-high 27.1 points. Compared to the rest of the league, Kyrie jumps from being the 12th top scorer to the eighth when adjusted for per 36 minutes - and only two of the players ahead of him, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo, are doing so with a higher FG%.
One of the reasons for Kyrie's decrease in playing time is Boston's busy schedule. No other team in the league have played 32 games like the C's have, so it's understandable if Stevens has been monitoring minutes more closely so far. In addition, perhaps he's getting more rest because of his renewed role as the go-to player. Kyrie has been relied on more heavily this season than any in his career - his 31.2% usage rate tops his former season high of 30.8% a year ago.
At the same time, though, this is exactly what Kyrie has been wanting. He asked out of Cleveland so he can be the number one option and workhorse for a team, yet his minutes have been monitored this season more than his time with the Cavs. BostonGlobe.com's Adam Himmelsbach asked Irving about his playing time and how it affects him:
“It makes a difference over the course of the season,” Irving said. “I’m not up there where I once was in terms of my minutes, but it’s just something you have to get used to in terms of what our medical staff is putting in place in order for us to succeed in the future. Some games, it still warrants me to play over 35 minutes, but usually it’s not on a back-to-back or anything like that. So, I take advantage of it.”
Clearly, Uncle Drew is perfectly fine with getting more breathers knowing that it is best for the long-term. He's been enjoying his best shooting numbers and his second-highest scoring average of his career while avoiding the wear-and-tear that heavy minutes have on the body. It's a win-win situation for Kyrie and the Celtics, if you ask me, and Kyrie seems to agree:
"I think it's just beneficial when you can kind of save your legs for what's to come in the future," Irving said. "I think that's the best thing for your body. So I don't mind it."
Stevens admitted that as the season progresses, star players naturally tend to receive an uptick in minutes. As long as they're winning games though, I would persaonlly want to continue saving Kyrie for when it matters most.