When Kemba Walker inked his 4-year, $141 million maximum contract deal, the expectations were quite high for him. The Celtics had an obvious huge hole to fill with the departure of Kyrie Irving. Even as Irving’s departure was a joyous occasion for most, Walker still needed to show he could provide the offensive production that was now missing on this roster. He had to quickly prove he was worth this max contract.
It is not just the production in the box score, but it would also be somehow quantified in his leadership and contagious attitude. He’d be responsible for making this team fun to watch again. This has already been drastically noticeable. These guys play for each other and have a body language that was not seen much of last season. Even three games into the season, Kemba’s impact on this team has been positive.
Statistically, however, it was a tough start to the season for Kemba as the Celtics went up against the Philadelphia 76ers and their insane length on defense. All night long, Walker struggled to get anything started offensively in his Celtics debut. The wingspan and length of the Sixers’ guards quickly showed that their defense was as good as advertised.
This clip summed up most of the night for Walker. He ended the night with 12 points, shooting 4-for-18 from the field and 1-for-6 from three. It was not the debut he was looking for in Celtics’ green but also was against one of the best defensive units in the league. The confidence did not falter even in a poor shooting night though. He still got up his 18 shots which showed that he still wanted to be a main offensive leader on this team.
This mindset then rolled into their home-opener against the Toronto Raptors. The offense was firing on all cylinders as the team got their home court advantage behind them. Specifically for Kemba, it took him a whole other half before he found his shot again in this young season. He hit multiple major shots in the fourth quarter while the team was down. That was a huge shot of confidence for himself and also the team around him.
Against the Raptors, Walker had a better all-around game than the opener in Philly, finishing with 22 points and 6 assists, but, more importantly, it was the second half that Kemba really found his offense again. CelticsBlog’s own Bill Sy wrote up a great film study from that game and the “horns” set which helped Kemba get his groove back. This article perfectly explained clips of how the same set managed to have him find his shooting rhythm again.
In crunch time of this game, Kemba Walker took over the offense and scored seven straight points. It was his “Welcome to Boston” game in front of Celtics Nation. It may have only been the second game into the season, but Walker quickly quieted any critics that popped up after his first game struggles. The offensive sets were drawn up for the point guard to create for himself and distribute if nothing was there. He navigated through this to control the last minutes of this game.
This confidence he built in this game rolled over perfectly to their following game in New York. Saturday night was Kemba’s full game coming out party on offense scoring 32 points and dishing 4 assists. It was also an incredibly efficient game for him shooting 11-for-17 from the field and 7-for-12 from three-point range. He proved this offense can run through him on any given night.
This clip is just one of the many perfectly executed plays run for Kemba with multiple back screens setting him up an open look for three. This shows, and will continue to show in the future, all the offensive wrinkles that could be thrown in for him in this offense. Since Kemba is less ball dominant than other point guards, creating for him will take more team involvement and passing to create open looks. It is the basketball that everyone loves to see.
The game Saturday night was a huge early stepping stone for Kemba Walker and his debut season with the Boston Celtics. He needed that first game to show everyone that he is here to come in and help this team compete. His personality makes it to where even when he scores 32 points in one night, it is never about himself. He makes it about his teammates who trusted him to keep shooting even if he was off against Philadelphia and the first half against Toronto. Kemba’s mentality and leadership qualities are refreshing for this team.
Going forward, this team will still need to play better if they want to win the Eastern Conference. The Sixers established their claim as front-runners after that season-opener. Kemba Walker and this offense will have to understand what their shortcomings were in that game. Adjustments are how good players become great, and that is what to expect from Kemba the next time he faces that team. He has shown now that he can take over games in a blink of the eye. With Kemba playing at that level, this Celtics offense will be quite enjoyable to watch all season long.