Dallas Mavericks shooting guard Kyrie Irving made his long-awaited Drew League debut in Los Angeles on Saturday, putting up a triple-double for the Nationwide Souljas. Here’s what you need to know:
- The eight-time NBA All-Star scored 20 points, adding 13 rebounds and 11 assists in the win versus Cal Supreme. The Souljas clinched a playoff spot and Irving is expected to play for the team next month to go for a Drew League championship.
- Irving, 31, averaged 27.1 points, 5.5 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.1 steals through 60 games with the Nets and Mavericks last season.
- In June, the free-agent Irving agreed to a three-year, $126 million contract to return to Dallas.
A @DrewLeague triple-double for Kyrie Irving 🔥
Watch LIVE NOW on the NBA App 👀
➡️ https://t.co/NEIf5hezZ2 pic.twitter.com/j9Row4cH9e
— NBA (@NBA) July 22, 2023
Irving made his intentions to play in the Drew League clear last month when he came to King Drew Medical Magnet High School to watch Nationwide Souljas play.
This is the 50th anniversary season of the Drew League, arguably the premier pro-am basketball summer league in the country. Irving had been rumored to play in past seasons and was close to playing last year on the same day that LeBron James debuted. But Irving has shied away from attention, and he made his debut on the fourth weekend that he was eligible to play, with some of his teammates not knowing that he would join them on the floor until Friday.
Unlike last year’s showcase with James, there was no advance word on Irving’s participation Saturday that had the line outside wrapped around the corner.
The Nationwide Souljas team Irving debuted with has played well over the last several seasons, and Irving made a connection with them over the last three to four years, according to Souljas coach “Rabbit.” Irving has been in pickup runs during the week all offseason with Souljas, so his fit on the floor was going to be smoother than most pros making their Drew League debut. — Murray
The Athletic’s instant analysis:
How did Irving look?
Irving airballed his first shot, but got comfortable early despite that, helping the Souljas get off to a 9-0 start and build a lead they would never relinquish.
This wasn’t an isolation exhibition for Irving, as he told his teammates to play how they normally play. Irving was often in the corner and off the ball, and he kept the ball moving as well, allowing all of his teammates to be comfortable. Irving’s only 3-pointer made was a catch-shoot opportunity.
Defensively, Irving lost his man off the ball a few times early, resulting in open shots for a Cal Supreme team that featured NBA veteran Jordan Schakel and Gary Franklin Jr., who got to know Irving before both went to college. But Irving ended possessions with rebounds and even had a big block at the rim to end a first-half possession.
There were multiple games this summer where Irving was on the bench for Nationwide Souljas providing moral support. Irving continued that demeanor as an active player, even sitting the first half of the second quarter. Irving told his teammates not to run specific plays for him, but Irving still had a game-high 13 points at halftime.
The second half allowed Irving to continue blending in. The biggest reaction he got was when he completed his triple-double via a 10th assist, finding class of 2026 high school prospect Brandon McCoy Jr. — Murray
The win was important for Nationwide Souljas for two reasons as it relates to Irving. Because Irving played, he’s is eligible for the playoffs. And because Nationwide Souljas won, they clinched a playoff spot, giving Irving a chance to play high-stakes basketball next month at the Drew League.
Irving is said to be motivated to make a championship run with Nationwide Souljas. While he did not speak after the game, he did sign autographs for kids on his way out. When asked if he is going for the championship, Irving smiled and nodded. — Murray
(Photo: Jerome Miron / USA Today)