In an undeniably small sample size, Kemba Walker has looked like the smiling Kemba of old that started in the All-Star Game just last season for the Celtics. Walker has only suited up for 18 of the Celtics’ 34 games this season, and likely won’t play in the second half of back-to-backs for the remainder of this year. His first ten games of the season were terrible, as he posted some putrid statlines that had NBA Twitter erupting with hot takes, like Walker being washed up and the worst contract in the league. The Celtics are unlikely to regain true contender status this season, but the total panic and calls for Danny Ainge to trade Walker were premature.
Over his last eight games, Walker has been fantastic for the Celtics, as he’s averaged 22-5-4 on 44%/41%/94% shooting splits. The Celtics’ record is 4-4 during Walker’s return to form, but both Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart have missed time during this period. The Celtics need to make internal and external improvements if they’re going to make any noise in the playoffs this year, but injuries are tough to overcome. This season, the Celtics’ core four of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, and Marcus Smart have only played 28 total minutes together. While Smart is expected to return following the All-Star Break, Brown is nursing knee soreness, which is concerning. Hopefully the break provides the Celtics with some much needed recovery time, and they can finally return to full strength after the March 7th All-Star Game.
I understand Celtics fans’ concerns about Walker’s slow start, and it’s never a good sign to see an undersized guard who relies on his quickness struggling with knee problems as he plays into his thirties. Walker is signed thorough next season, and he has a $37.5 million player option for the 2022-23 season. This is a massive salary hit for a player who many were calling “washed” not even halfway through his contract, so let’s hope this recent return to form is maintained. While it’s frustrating to watch a max contract player be held out for rest, we saw how Walker played in the NBA Bubble, and a fresh and rested Walker should produce better results in the long run throughout the rest of his contract.
At this point in his career, Walker shouldn’t be the main option on offense for a contending team. Luckily, the Celtics only need Walker to be their third option on offense. However, given this season’s injuries and lack of bench productivity, I believe that the Celtics will need Walker to provide at least 18+ efficient points per game. This should be an attainable goal for Walker. More often than not, he won’t be mating up with an opposing team’s best defender, as that will likely go to either Tatum or Brown depending on the lineup. Walker should also benefit from double-teams being directed at Tatum and Brown, leaving him to hit open shots. Walker is a good three-point shooter, and is shooting nearly ten threes per game this season at a 36% clip. The Celtics famously live and die by the three, but Walker is suited to serve as a consistent threat from three as he continues to play well.
Many have knocked Walker’s friendly approach, especially during the Celtics’ skid, but I’d still prefer Walker to enjoy his time in Boston even amidst poor play, as opposed to Kyrie Irving’s sulking and blame game during losses any day of the week. It seemed like NBA fans instantly slammed Walker for a brief period of poor play, but I’d advise wariness in doing so. I completely understand that the Celtics have underperformed this season, but immediately calling for Danny Ainge to trade a player whose recovering from injury is how you push a player out of town. When Ainge traded Isaiah Thomas while injured after all he played through while in Boston, Anthony Davis’ father cited this as a reason why he didn’t want his son to play for the Celtics. If anything, Walker’s value is at a low point right now, so anyone we trade him for won’t elevate the Celtics into the Finals.
I’d love to see Celtics fans rally behind Walker as he plays well, just as they slammed him when he played poorly. Like I said, it is a small sample size, and I’m not advocating that he receive a free pass, but measure him fairly. He came back from a knee surgery and while he looked better, his shooting wasn’t there. Walker himself stated that his early struggles were more mental than recovery related, and it would appear that he has overcome these mental struggles. With that being said, I fully acknowledge Walker could have a bad game tonight as he’s guarded by Pat Beverly of the Clippers, and this entire article could look poorly timed in six hours. However, I’m hopeful that Cardiac Kemba is back, and here to stay, as the Celtics will need him to play like a near All-Star for the rest of this season and beyond.
The Celtics are 5-2 when Kemba Walker scores 20+ points this season.