Nets hoping Kyrie Irving gets back to attacking the rim

Kyrie Irving acknowledges he’s in a mini-slump at the worst possible time, with the Nets jostling for play-in positioning.

And while he’s a stellar outside shooter and a midrange monster, Irving would be well-served getting back to what he does best — getting to the rim.

He’s one of the great finishers of all time, but he’s not attacking the basket like he always has. The Nets are far too desperate to keep a weapon like that holstered.

“Small sample size, brother,” said Irving, downplaying his paucity of attempts at the cup, a problem that’s gotten worse during his recent skid. “You know my game very well, I’m one of the best finishers at the rim.

“I’m able to score on the midrange level, and a threat from the 3-point line; so as long as I’m efficient at those different levels of scoring I have a good chance to perform well out there and give my team a better chance of winning. But as you can see, if I am dipping in and out of my efficiency and not making as many shots, it puts little bit more pressure on our team. Maybe I’ll take some of your advice and drive a little bit more.”

Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) drives past Hawks guard Bogdan Bogdanovic.
AP

The 10th-place Nets — who were under tons of pressure entering Tuesday’s game against Houston — would be well-served if Irving drove a lot more. He’s not wrong about being one of the all-time finishers at the rim: He just needs to get back to doing it.

In the Nets’ past five games entering Tuesday, Irving averaged just 21.4 points on 36.2 percent shooting — including 35.2 percent on jumpers, which always come and go.

But one of history’s best finishers took just 12 layup attempts over that span, less than half his career average.

Is that because his jumper had been so automatic for most of the season that he hadn’t needed to drive? Or being dropped into the season midway through against defenders with three months’ head start on him?

“I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. All those factors play a part,” Steve Nash said. “We also have been unhealthy for big stretches of his season, where the paint was clogged with defenders. So him adapting to some of the lineups we throw out there, the attention he draws, how well he shot the ball for periods of time — all those things are factors.

Nets guard Kyrie Irving reacts after hitting a 3-point shot during the third quarter.
Nets guard Kyrie Irving reacts after hitting a 3-point shot.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“Kyrie can get to the basket. I still think he’ll do so. But I do think that all those factors play into it, and recently it’s natural for players to go through different pockets of the season where they don’t play as efficiently or shoot as well as other times. Some of that is just him still adapting to all these different things, different lineups, playing every game now. That’s changed. Sometimes we underestimate, because someone is so gifted, but it’s nonetheless an adaptation.”

Irving entered Tuesday attempting under 3.4 layups per game this season based on numbers compiled off Basketball Reference, by far a career-low.

For perspective, Irving averaged 5.8 last season and entered this season at nearly 5.4 for his career. He’s averaged as high as 6.8 in 2016-17, and hasn’t been below five attempts since 2013-14. To be at 3.4 — and 2.4 during this skid — is telling.

“I just play the game, you know? Sometimes I’ll drive: Sometimes I won’t,” Irving said. “Sometimes I’m feeling it from the perimeter; and when my jump shot’s going, I feel like no one can stop me and I’m just going to keep shooting.

“But if teams allow me to get to the rim and I’m getting to the free-throw line, and I’m being aggressive with that, then that works for me. But I think I just play the game with just a flow and instincts, and it’s going to look different game-to-game.”

Mired 10th in the East with just three games left after Tuesday, the Nets need Irving back in the flow, and quickly.

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