Kyrie Irving has worked black magic with the basketball from the moment he reached the NBA, but what he’s done during the month of January has been nothing short of performance art. It’s as if Irving has individual strings tied around each of his fingers and the basketball is his oversized yo-yo. He always has control of it, and even when the ball strays too far from his hands, he simply snaps it right back. What Irving has done this month confirms what we’ve known for a long time—that he’s far and away the best ball-handler in the NBA.
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We begin on Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, when Irving spared no one, including Russell Westbrook, a man who is averaging a triple-double and isn’t used to being made to look like a basketball commoner. In the second quarter, Irving attached Westbrook to his strings, pulling him to his right before abruptly putting on the brakes and retreating back to his left. By the time Irving was accelerating again, Westbrook was another galaxy away, able only to muster a weak grab of Irving’s jersey to thwart his path to the hoop.
Thunder rookie Alex Abrines wasn’t safe either. He made the poor life decision of yelling, “I got ball!” on an Irving-led fast break. A few quick dribbles and a hesitation move later, and Abrines was left sucking fumes.
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When the calendar flipped to Monday night, Irving wasn’t finished haunting defenders. He turned Dallas Mavericks point guard Seth Curry inside out like delicate laundry. Curry tried to chase Irving around a Tristan Thompson pick. Pouring salt in an already gaping wound, Irving rose up and drained a 3 after deciding he was finished toying with Curry.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out what Irving did to poor Dante Cunningham earlier this month, crossing the ball over from right to left, then pulling it the other way behind his back before being fouled.
Yes, Stephen Curry can dribble with the best of them. Chris Paul still possesses the ability to fool multiple defenders in one possession. But no one in the NBA is doing what Irving is doing with the basketball on a nightly basis. It’s not really close anymore.