Kyrie Irving, the only non-vaccinated player on the Brooklyn Nets roster, returns to the hardwood and will make his season debut during a road game against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night.

Kyrie Irving Brooklyn Nets returns Indiana Pacers
Kyrie Irving will play in his first game this season with the Brooklyn Nets after missing the first 35 games due to his vaccination status. (Image: Getty)

The Nets put Irving on the shelf when he opted against a COVID-19 vaccination due to personal reasons. According to New York City’s health mandate, Irving wasn’t permitted to play games at Barclay’s Center or enter the Nets’ practice facility in Brooklyn.

In mid-December, the Nets were decimated with a COVID-19 outbreak after 10 players entered health protocols. Three games were postponed by the NBA, and their Christmas matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers was also on the verge of postponement. At that point, the Nets front office decided to allow Irving to play road games. Between COVID and a heavy workload for Kevin Durant and James Harden, general manager Sean Marks decided the team needed Irving for the long haul and a championship run.

Irving will sit out home games and will play only road games. The Nets have 47 games remaining on their schedule this season, with 25 of those on the road. Due to municipal health protocols, Irving will be unable to play against the New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, or Toronto Raptors. The Nets play the Knicks twice at Madison Square Garden and meet the Raptors once at ScotiaBank Arena in Toronto. So in theory, Irving can suit up for 22 road games.

The Nets are -8.5 road favorites with Irving against the Pacers (14-24) tonight. The Pacers are 18-19-1 ATS, but the Nets struggled to cover the spread with a 14-20-1 ATS clip.

37 minutes: KD and Harden

The Brooklyn Nets are the consensus favorites to win the 2022 NBA championship at a steady +245 odds on DraftKings, or +250 at Las Vegas sportsbooks like the Westgate SuperBook and Circa. That’s with just two-thirds of their Big 3 playing through the first 35 games of the season, with the Nets posting a 23-12 record.

“We arrived at this decision with the full support of our players and after careful consideration of our current circumstances, including players missing games due to injuries and health and safety protocols,” said Marks. “We believe that the addition of Kyrie will not only make us a better team, but allow us to more optimally balance the physical demand on the entire roster.”

Harden and Durant average approximately 37 minutes per game. Head coach Steve Nash would like to get his stars some rest in the second half of the season, so Irving returning allows him to sit either of them, and to control their load management to stay fresh for the postseason.

6th man: Kyrie?

Patty Mills started the season as Brooklyn’s Sixth Man, but he was inserted into the starting five after sharpshooter Joe Harris went down with an ankle injury. Mills made the best of his promotion and saw his average improve to 16 ppg as a starter while shooting nearly 41% from downtown. Mills lit up the Lakers on Christmas with 34 points, including 8-for-13 from 3-point range.

It makes sense that Nash continued to start Mills while utilizing Irving as the Sixth Man until Irving can get back into game shape.

“I don’t think it’s where he can play 38 minutes,” said Nash. “But I think he can play a big chunk of the game. He’s played four full-court days with 5-on-5, so he’s capable of playing extended minutes, but not necessarily his customary high 30s.”

The Nets could always use another deep threat on the perimeter. Although Irving isn’t as strong a spot-up shooter as Harris, he’s still a high-percentage long-range bomber. Irving shot 40.2% from 3-point land last season and became only the ninth player in NBA history to join the 50-40-90 clubs. Irving averaged over 50% from the floor, 40% from beyond the arc, and 90% from the charity stripe in 2020-21. Those are the sort of high-end efficiency numbers that fantasy owners and analytics nerds love to see.