Depending on who you ask, Kemba Walker could be anyplace from overly washed to overly joyous.
But as typical, nobody has time for nuance as soon as a place has been determined upon. It’s vital to keep in mind that Walker’s preliminary knee damage was suffered final season after being named an All-Star for the fourth consecutive yr, which was his first as a Boston Celtic. The knee damage arose previous to the All-Star break; then he obtained it drained earlier than lacking 5 video games and returning in opposition to the Brooklyn Nets (one yr in the past at the moment).
Walker by no means fairly replicated his All-Star type till he torched the Philadelphia 76ers within the first spherical of the NBA Playoffs final yr, and even till Game 6 of the semifinals vs. Toronto, Walker had been averaging 21.9 factors and 5.2 assists per recreation on practically 50-percent capturing. Even in opposition to the Miami Heat within the Eastern Conference finals, Walker put up shut to twenty factors and 5 assists, although he solely shot 42.6 p.c from the sector, and about 35 p.c from three. At that time, he led the staff in offensive field plus-minus through the common season (4.6) and was second within the playoffs (2.6) behind Tatum’s 4.5, in addition to playoff Win Shares (1.9), sandwiched in between Tatum’s 2.3 and Brown’s 1.8.
Walker has solely logged simply 28 minutes this season alongside Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart, who stays out with a calf pressure. According to go coach Brad Stevens, Smart’s return is ‘getting a lot closer.’
The first space the place you can justify Walker having shortcomings for a chronic interval simply got here and went. And except it resurfaces, we may categorize that as a brutal, post-injury grace interval and or restoration stretch. After lacking the primary 11 video games of the season, Walker step by step labored his manner again from the knee damage, which at one level required stem cell injections, and he didn’t even log half-hour till Game 7. In reality, you can divide his 19 appearances into two factions. Walker’s first 10 video games since returning noticed him common a pedestrian (for his commonplace) 15.0 factors and 4.3 assists on capturing splits of 34.2 / 30.6 / 88.9. The free throw share was excellent, however solely on 2.7 makes an attempt per recreation, two fewer than his profession common, indicating a stage of trepidation, in addition to a minutes reduce. The Celtics had been solely 3-7 on this stretch.
But in his final 9 outings, Walker resembles the closest he’s been to his All-Star self. In mentioned 9 Walker appearances, the Celtics are 6-3, with the Bronx product placing forth 22.7 factors and 4.7 assists per contest on capturing splits of 43.5 / 42.2 / 92.1. Showing a stage of confidence, he’s gotten to the foul-line over 4 instances per recreation throughout that run, which nearly matches his tally from final season. He’s additionally averaged 32.5 minutes in these 9 showings, which is definitely above his 31.1 mark from the 2019-20 common season. Most importantly, Walker is exhibiting the bounce he displayed for the primary three months of the 2019-20 season. Before final season, Walker by no means missed greater than 9 video games in a season outdoors of his 2014-15 effort.
The Celtics are nonetheless solely 18-17 and wish Walker to take care of his latest play, if not elevate it even a tad additional, however the staff nonetheless ranks fourth within the Eastern Conference, withholding different regarding developments.
The homie Sam Fels famous two weeks in the past that Jayson Tatum’s COVID struggles elevate questions on what might stem from the after results he himself famous, particularly because it pertains to conditioning. In 10 video games earlier than lacking time because of COVID, Tatum averaged 26.9 factors, 7.1 rebounds, and three.8 assists with 47.4 / 43.8 / 88.9 capturing splits. Tatum then missed two weeks, sitting out 5 video games, and has since performed each recreation upon coming again, logging 20 appearances and averaging over 36 minutes per outing, like nothing. However, his manufacturing has dropped (virtually) throughout the board, averaging 23.9 factors, 6.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists on simply 41.2 / 32.1 / 87.3 capturing splits. Outside of Tatum’s struggles, the Celtics nonetheless lack a dependable scoring huge man, although Robert Williams seems to be breaking out of his shell a bit, averaging 11.0 factors, 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.7 blocks in simply 20.4 minutes per contest.
With Walker, it might show to be regarding that his first severe damage lingers, as a 30-year-old undersized guard, however for now, it needs to be extra regarding that along with his struggles, he’s nonetheless simply the staff’s third-most productive participant. Boston’s bench has been vastly underwhelming as a collective group, although Payton Pritchard is having an encouraging rookie season. The Celtics additionally await the return of Marcus Smart, who’s their most precious participant on protection.
And I wished to do that with out mentioning Kyrie Irving, however let’s briefly acknowledge this: The Celtics CEO may say what he needs, however there’s a direct correlation between Irving’s absences and the Celtics’ playoff success. We may debate the 2017-18 season endlessly, however following Irving’s season-ending knee surgical procedure, then-rookie (#HesOnly19) Jayson Tatum and second-year breakout star Jaylen Brown led the Celtics into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals with the final good LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers staff.
Throughout 2018-19, there have been infinite stories of friction between Irving and all the pieces Celtics, opening the door for his Brooklyn exit. But consequently, the Celtics had been uninspiringly steamrolled by the Bucks in 5 video games in Round 2. Irving had capturing splits together with field-goal and three-point percentages of 38.5 and 31.0 within the playoffs, respectively. And when he left, we noticed the rise of each Tatum and Brown. Whether it’s a pure growth, Irving’s departure, or each, it occurred, and it landed the Celtics in Game 6 of final yr’s Eastern Conference finals, with Walker and never Irving.
The argument (for affordable of us) was by no means that Walker is a greater straight-up one-on-one participant than Irving, however that he’d match higher with Boston than Irving did, and he has as a result of Tatum and Brown have accelerated to simple All-Star ranges consequently. Irving can also be a greater slot in Brooklyn, the place it’s attainable he ends this yr as an NBA Champion. As it pertains to Walker-Irving, everybody can win right here, and to this point, everybody seemingly has, when thought-about in totality, however historical past will likely be written when all is said-and-done.
To the identical tune that Walker’s earlier struggles warrant criticism, his latest play deserves recognition. For now, we’ll name him overly criticized.