Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving joined an elite club as the 2020-21 NBA season came to a close. His shooting percentages – 50.6% field goal, 40.2% 3-point, and 92.2% free throw – put him in the 50/40/90 club.
Currently, only eight other qualified NBA players have ended seasons with shooting percentages at or above these thresholds. Most of these players are among the legends of the NBA.
As great as Irving’s statistical season was, he doesn’t belong in this group.
The 50/40/90 club is an exclusive group
The list of players in the 50/40/90 club is extremely impressive. Its eight previous members include two Hall of Famers (Larry Bird, Reggie Miller), four future Hall of Famers (Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry), a multiple-time All-Star (Mark Price), and Malcolm Brogdon.
Bird and Nash are the only players to have multiple 50/40/90 seasons. Bird was the first player to accomplish the statistical feat and did it twice, in the 1986-87 and 1987-88 seasons. Nash ended the year with these lofty percentages an incredible four times. The Canadian point guard did it in 2005-06, 2007-08, 2008-09, and 2009-10.
The highest field-goal percentage in the club goes to Bird with 52.7% in 1987-88. The best 3-point number was Nash’s 47.0% in 2007-08, and the top free-throw percentage also goes to Nash but in 2009-10. Curry put up these numbers while averaging the most points per game at 30.1.
Kyrie Irving had a great statistical season
Irving’s second year in Brooklyn has to be considered a success on many levels. The superstar point guard put up incredible numbers this season. In addition to his shooting percentages, he averaged 26.9 points, 6.0 assists, and 4.8 rebounds.
He did this all while helping guide the Nets to the No. 2 seed in the East. This accomplishment may not seem that impressive for a team with Irving, Durant, and James Harden. Still, when you consider the other two stars played just 35 and 36 games for the Nets, respectively, Irving’s numbers seem that much more important.
Even with the gaudy statistics, the knock on Irving’s season is how many games he missed for personal reasons. Irving took several mostly unexplained sabbaticals during the season. The former Duke Blue Devil even admitted in a late-season press conference that, “Basketball is just not the most important thing to me right now.”
There should be an asterisk next to Irving’s name in the 50/40/90 club
With his first 50/40/90 season, Irving joined seven NBA legends and one role player who have accomplished the feat. Unfortunately for Irving, his 50/40/90 season has more in common with the role player’s accomplishment than it does with the superstars’.
When Brogdon shot 50/40/90 for the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2018-19 season, it seemed unbelievable that a good, but not great, player would be able to reach these heights. When you dig into his numbers, though, you can see it isn’t quite as impressive as it seems.
Brogdon only played in 64 of the Bucks’ 82 games that season. He also only averaged 28.6 minutes per game, his lowest total outside his rookie year.
In contrast, the previous lowest game total in the club was Bird in 1986-87 with 74, although he played a whopping 40.6 minutes per game that season. The lowest minutes per game was Nash’s fourth and final time doing it in 2009-10 when he averaged 32.8.
Shooting percentages (or percentages in general) get harder to keep at lofty heights the more games you play. It is the reason so few MLB players have ever hit .400 for an entire season. You still have to be talented to hit these thresholds, but the truth is, the less time a player is on the court, be it in minutes or games, the better their chances are of averaging 50/40/90.
This season, Irving averaged a respectable 34.9 minutes but played just 54 games. Making matters worse is that most of those missed games were due to self-imposed exile, not injury. This should be a disqualifying factor for being mentioned as a real member of the 50/40/90 club.
The numbers don’t lie. The percentages are what they are.
However, Irving (and Brogdon) should have an asterisk next to their 50/40/90 season — and not as a slight toward them. It is simply to recognize the true greatness of what Bird, Price, Miller, Nash, Nowitzki, Durant, and Curry accomplished.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference