Kyrie Irving is currently eight in the NBA in steals and seventh in deflections per game. He had five steals against the Pelicans, which is the second five steal game of this season and one of only eight career games of five or more (his career-high is seven).
Steals aren’t the be-all, end-all defensive stat, but it’s hard to watch the games this season and not recognize Kyrie is giving more effort on defense.
“I came into the season just wanting to put an emphasis on that end of the floor,” Kyrie said after practice today.
It’s paying off. Not only is he getting steals, but he’s deflecting three passes a game too. Marcus Smart is second on the team at 1.9. For Kyrie, it’s part of a progression he recognizes he needed to make.
“I think in my career I’ve kinda gotten away with just being an offensive talent,” he admitted today. “Being a guy that’s just been solid and never been a guy who, eh, I’ll say consistently brings it with that effort every single time down the floor.”
This year, though, the added focus has helped the Celtics at least stay afloat most games when their offense has struggled, something teammate Marcus Morris has noticed:
“The first thing, probably, he’s taking ownership of picking up the intensity on the defensive side,” he told reporters. “Getting up in the guy, and it’s definitely carrying over to other players on this team and the team as a whole. He’s definitely taking it to another level.”
To be fair, steals can be just dumb like sometimes.
But others are because of his hustle
And some are good positioning and anticipation.
“Just being in the right spots as well as being aggressive off the ball as on the ball, the point of attack,” Kyrie explained about his defense.
Just utilizing my quickness to my advantage, just guarding some different positions sometimes so you’re just able to use some of your instinctual things, gifts, to be in the right spot.”
He’s never going to be named to an All-Defense team, but he’s also not the negative on that side we thought we were getting in the trade from Cleveland, which is kind of a big deal. For the Celtics to get where they need to be defensively, and they’re not there yet, they can’t spend too much time covering for glaring holes on the perimeter. Defense is hard enough with the rules being what they are nowadays. The fact that Kyrie is focusing on his defense so far helps the overall team goals.
“I’m not the only one,” he said. “So, us as a team we’re great defensively when we’re all locked in.”