PORTLAND, Ore. -- Portland Trail Blazers coach and former NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups says he believes Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving is "the most skilled player" ever to play the point guard position.
"Kyrie is just, he's a wizard, man," Billups said before the Blazers' 114-108 win over the Nets on Monday night. "He's must-see TV. I personally think, as somebody that played the position, I think Kyrie's the most skilled player that's ever played that position. Just straight skill. Nothing else. Just straight skill. I think he's the best that I've ever seen at the position, skill-wise. So, obviously, he gives you a ton when he's playing."
Billups' remarks came in response to a question about just how much different the Nets become when Irving is on the floor. Monday marks just the second game this season in which Irving, 29, has played.
Irving, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, was not with the Nets to start the season because they decided against having a part-time player in the wake of New York City's vaccination mandate. The organization reversed course last month after a COVID-19 outbreak made its way through the team. Irving returned Wednesday in a win over the Indiana Pacers, showing flashes of being the dominant offensive force he has always been.
"His shot-making is incredible," Billups said. "He's a better passer than people give him credit for. He's obviously a willing teammate. He's not just all about Kyrie. He passes the ball. He's a champion. He brings championship pedigree to the table. I think he hit maybe the biggest shot that I ever seen in NBA Finals history, that I seen.
"So he brings all of those things to you and now without him, what a luxury, you still have two guys [in Kevin Durant and James Harden] that have been the MVP in this game and have carried teams a long, long way. So they do a really good job of playing well together, when they're all three together, they know how to delegate their roles as good as anybody that I've seen. So it's a very unique situation, obviously, they're figuring it out."
Irving, who had 22 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists in Monday's loss, agreed with Billups' assessment after the game.
"I definitely appreciate the praise and I definitely agree that my skill level at this point in my career deserves that recognition," Irving said. "But the work never stops. Understanding that coming from a lot of our OG's that we call in our league that have built this brotherhood, that have built this culture, it's incredible to hear that they have that high praise, but like I said in the beginning it's just more added motivation and to continue to prove it."
Irving enjoyed hearing the kind praise from Billups and respected the fact that it came from someone who accomplished what the veteran player and coach accomplished during his own career.
"I'm grateful for that," Irving said. "Coming from him, a championship winner, championship point guard, and it gives me more motivation to continue to write this legacy that I have with incredible teammates. And just continue to raise the level of mastery and just leave a great blueprint for other guys to follow. I know I'm going on 30 years old, I never thought I'd really be in this league to say that -- not be in this league, just be at this age where now I'm looked at as a 10-plus year career guy.
"And I just want to continue to leave a mark where guys have something great to follow and I can continue to set an example, while still understanding that a lot of these guys are only going to continue to get better and I'm going to see them for a little while, and we have some fun doing so. But I like being at kind of the top of the pack; I've been doing it consistently for a while. Outstanding injuries that cut some of my seasons short, but I feel like the legacy's still being written with some great players alongside me."
As much as Billups respects Irving's game, it's notable that the longtime player, and now coach, believes that it will be difficult for the Nets to ultimately find their rhythm with Irving able to play in only most road games -- for now.
"I just think it's going to be tough," Billups said. "Obviously, when you got the two dudes that they have [in Durant and Harden] minus Kyrie, there's a chance that it can work anyway ... they're doing a good job of just kind of understanding and knowing that they're almost going to be like two different teams. When Ky is there, and when he's not. And the good luxury that they have is that they can be a great team -- both teams are great teams."