Kyrie Irving just misses the top 10 of ESPN’s preseason player rankings, joining a number of Brooklyn Nets to make the top-100 list.
After appearing on Sports Illustrated’s top-100 players list less than two weeks ago (at No. 15), ESPN’s team of analysts placed Irving in slot No. 11 on their personal set of rankings.
Reporter Malika Andrews had the scoop on Irving, asking the big important question that could determine Brooklyn’s success:
“Can he be an effective leader? Irving has made it clear that he won’t set out to prove anything about his leadership or basketball abilities to people outside the team. That isn’t important to him, and that’s fine. He needs to prove to his coaches, teammates and the Nets’ front office that he can be a force of unity. Irving has admitted that leadership was hard for him, but he has shown flashes of it. Last season, Celtics players told ESPN that Irving pulled them aside before the playoffs. Irving let the team’s young players know that playoff basketball is a different, more urgent game. When he did that, Terry Rozier told ESPN that the locker room exuded a different energy. The team was together, Rozier said, ‘not like before.'”
All signs point to Irving doing just that in Brooklyn. Earlier this summer, Kyrie organized coordinated workouts with multiple Nets in Los Angeles. Since then, Irving and his teammates have traveled to Brooklyn, continuing their endless stretch of work and preparation for the season. General manager Sean Marks recently commented on Irving’s commitment to the grind during Tuesday’s press conference, saying “Kyrie has been [in the gym] religiously.”
It’s worth noting that former Net D’Angelo Russell landed on this same list at slot No. 26. One year ago, Russell didn’t even make the top 100 in ESPN’s 2018-19 preview.
Kudos to the point guard whisperer, Kenny Atkinson, as the fruits of his labor have paid off in a major way with D-Lo. Now, let’s see what he can do with the championship pedigree of Kyrie Irving.