Why Kemba Walker must play well in the NBA Playoffs

NBC Sports Boston.

Very few people are picking the Celtics to win their opening playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets which begins today, May 22nd, at 8:00 EST. It’s unfortunate, but even as an optimistic fan, I’m also realistic, and recognize the Celtics will be immensely overmatched. That’s why it’s important to focus on the smaller moral victories, and use this playoff run (however short it may be) to start looking forward to next season.

This could not be more true for Kemba Walker, who now needs to consistently provide scoring for the Celtics with the absence of Jaylen Brown. Walker has nursed his knee injury throughout the 2020-21 NBA season, missing time for maintenance and resting during the second half of back-to-backs the entire season. With the regular season now over, the Celtics are the clear underdogs, and Walker must demonstrate that he can still be a main option on offense for periods of time. Jayson Tatum will undoubtedly be the Celtics’ focal point, but he can’t do it alone, so Walker needs to carry the load when Tatum is on the bench or gathering his breath. Aside from Tatum, the Celtics have few proven options on offense aside from Walker, and the Trade Deadline acquisition, Evan Fournier.

Walker played great in the Celtics Play-In Game against the Washington Wizards, as he put up 29 points on 10-24 shooting from the field in 34 minutes. His performance was overshadowed by Tatum’s 50 points, but that’s to be expected as this is clearly Tatum’s team. Realistically, Walker is best suited to be a complementary star behind Tatum and Brown (when he returns), but he needs to demonstrate that he can step up in times of need.  

By no means did Walker necessarily have a bad season, as he averaged 19 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds per game, but it was disappointing to see that his knee continued to be an issue. It’s also a far cry from just the 2019-20 NBA season, Walker’s first year as a Celtic, when he was an All-Star starter. At 30 years old, and as a smaller player, Walker’s best days may be behind him, but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to be the third star behind Tatum and Brown. The problem is, right now the Celtics require him to be their second star.

Walker’s season has been frustrating, but I personally hope he excels in the Playoffs this year and proves the haters wrong. He’s been nothing but professional while in Boston, and he is a much better mentor and locker room presence than the former Celtics point guard that is now playing for the Nets. A great showing throughout this series and possibly beyond would demonstrate to the Celtics faithful and the NBA world that Walker still has what it takes and hasn’t fallen off as he enters his thirties.

Another argument to be made pertains to Walker’s contract with the Celtics. Walker is under contract for $36 million next season, and has a player option the following year for $37.5 million dollars. This is a sizable amount of money, and I believe that as Walker currently stands, it would be difficult to trade him without sacrificing a young player or pick, or receive 75 cents on the dollar. To be clear, I don’t necessarily want to trade Walker, as I think that this would only demonstrate Boston’s seeming lack of loyalty to players in the front office. However, if Walker does play well in the Playoffs, it will boost his trade value, and also show Celtics fans that Walker can live up to the monetary amount in his contract.
While I’m not in Walker’s inner circle, I am confident that he wants nothing more than to come out tonight and replicate his performance in the Play-In Tournament against Brooklyn. After all, while Celtics fans are quick to both embrace and disparage players in the regular season, it’s the Playoffs where the true bonds between player and fan are made. Go Celtics.