Boston Celtics’ Kyrie Irving is the front-runner to pick up the regular season MVP award next season, according to ESPN’s Stephen A Smith.

The point guard’s debut season with the Celtics was cut short in March due to the recurrence of a knee injury which forced him to go under the knife in order to treat a bacterial infection and remove screws that were inserted following his kneecap fracture in 2015.

The surgery ruled him out for the rest of the campaign, but he had played a significant role in the first half of his debut campaign with the Celtics. He helped the Boston franchise to the top of the Eastern Conference, which they eventually lost to the Toronto Raptors as the regular season drew to a close.

Irving’s regular season performances were sorely missed during the playoffs, but despite his absence and the predictions that they would fall at the first time of asking, the Celtics made it all the way to the East Finals. They were just one win away from making the NBA Finals, losing in Game 7 to the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers.

The 26-year-old proved he was one of the top players in the NBA during his time with the Cavaliers, when he helped them make three straight finals. He continued that form with the Celtics only for the injury to cut short a potential run to yet another final.

Irving’s first season performances for Brad Stevens’ team and the young dynamic roster at their disposal has led Smith to believe that he can be NBA’s top performer next season. In the 60 games he played, he averaged 24.4 points, 5.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds while playing an average of 32.2 minutes.

“I think it’s going to be Kyrie Irving,” Stephen A Smith said on ESPN’s “First Take” on Tuesday when asked who will be the 2018-19 regular season MVP. “I think he is going to have a shot, I mean assuming he is healthy obviously that is the impediment.”

“If he is healthy I think he is going to put on a show next year. I think with the pieces Boston [Celtics] has in place, the style of play they put forth, their ability to spread the floor and the things that he can do in the open court, I think that he is going to put on an absolute show next year.

“He would be my odds on front runner to win league MVP next season,” ESPN’s NBA insider added.

Irving is still injured and is yet to be cleared by the medical staff to start running. But coach Stevens is confident that his star point guard will return to the court well in advance of the start of the 2018-19 season in October.