Unlike other affluent franchises in NBA history like the Lakers or Bulls, the Celtics have largely thrived without any marquee volume scorers throughout their long, storied history.
Sure Beantown has been home to great scorers like Paul Pierce, Kevin McHale, and the team’s all-time leading scorer John Havlicek. Of course you can’t forget Larry “Legend” either, who was an incredibly great scorer in his own right, but even Bird was more focused on the “essential game” as Red Auerbach called it. Rebounding, defending, passing, court generalship… Enter Kyrie Irving, a player who is almost singularly focused on scoring above all else. Does he have the chance to eclipse all of the great scorers who have come before him, to supplant himself as the greatest pure scorer in Celtics history? Let’s dive into it:
The legendary Boston Globe writer, Bob Ryan, famously dredged up the conversation when he made the controversial statement that Pierce was, in fact, the greatest pure scorer in Celtics history. Pointing to his all-encompassing skill set for a wing, that allowed him to score in every situation imaginable, in one capacity or another.
Everyone and their mother’s opinion aside, the Celtics leaderboards for scoring totals are as followed; Bird at third with 21,791 points, Pierce at second with 24,021 points and Havlicek at the top with 26,395 points. So, from a statistical standpoint, it would be no easy task for Irving. At 25 years old, I can safely say that Irving has at least another five years at his apex. In his last campaign with the Cavaliers, he averaged 25.2 points per contest, good for 1,816 total points.
First and foremost though, extrapolating ahead five years, let alone ten years, is contingent on two things — attrition and of course, Irving actually staying in Boston. Obviously though, I expect Irving to sign an extension in due time, and I wouldn’t expect nor wish injury on anyone. So with that said, let’s imagine Irving averages 27 points per game this season. Last year he played 72 games, but we’ll be cranking that up to 75 for simulation’s sake. That would put him around 2,025 total points for the season. Even after five seasons, that only earns him around 10,125 total points in green. Even if he averaged around 23 points for five more years, between ages 30 and 34, that would be around 1,725 points per season and 8,625 points over that period. Granting him a grand total of 18,750 points until he was 35. Some people may call that a bit conservative, given his talent, but I’d call that “optimism”. For that forecast to even come true, I have to reiterate that Irving would have to average 25 points per game for 10 years and play at least 75 games per year. To this point in his career, he’s never even played more than 72 games, let alone the fact that it would be shocking if Irving stayed with Boston for another 10 years with the way deals are thrown around today.
So maybe Irving’s chances at climbing his way to the top of the Celtics all-time scoring list isn’t so feasible, but what does the tape say? Like Bob Ryan’s summation of things, specifically regarding Paul Pierce’s stake at the title. Ryan astutely broke down Pierce’s wealth of scoring tools, and how he has rudimentary skills that cover every basis imaginable. A great midrange shot, a reliable shot from beyond the arch, a great finisher at the rim in the break, great at finishing in the half court, and a strikingly accurate free throw shooter to boot. Similarly, Irving’s offense repertoire is vast, and dare I say even more impressive. Irving is inarguably one of the greatest ball-handlers in all of basketball history, ranking right there with Isiah Thomas, Allen Iverson, and his peer — Stephen Curry. For a guard, he’s today’s premier finisher, and certainly one of the best the league’s ever seen — boasting an array of floaters, fallaways, and a tenacity at the rim that is virtually unrivaled at his size when it comes to finishing contested layups at the rim. Aside from his ability to create open lanes with his handle, or “breaking their ankles”, and finish at the rim(contested or not), Irving is a remarkable midrange shooter with or without a man in his face, and a remarkable enough deep ball marksmen to win the three-point competition. Or, you know, to do this:
The one issue that worries me, not only for Irving’s shot at being considered the greatest scorer in Celtics history, but for the team’s chances at winning a title in the near future, is Irving’s consistency. Time and time again in the playoffs we’ve seen Irving’s individual production fall to the wayside and be concealed by LeBron James’ greatness. Conversely, we’ve seen finals game after finals game, when the Cavaliers have been pushed into a corner by the Warriors, that Irving has the power to go toe to toe with the likes of Stephen Curry — and even outplay him. If Irving can consistently play at a level even remotely close to that level, where he seems untouchable and unguardable, I’m certain that other Celtics’ fanatics will join me in saying that Irving can, in fact, go down as the greatest scorer in the franchise’s history.