After Boston’s 140-133 shootout against the Washington Wizards, head coach Brad Stevens chalked up the team’s lack of defense as an “anomaly.” After going 9-1 and owning a top-10 defense for most of the young season, you’ll forgive the occasional clunker.
However, the Celtics weren’t entirely a sieve on D. Standing 6’1, Kemba Walker knows that people don’t exactly see him as a defensive stopper, but he does have bullet points on the resume that prove otherwise. Walker was third last season in total charges drawn (27) and ripped 102 steals (by comparison, Marcus Smart was third in the league with 143).
Even though Isaiah Thomas--his head-to-head match up last night and fellow little guy--scored a season-high 18 points opposite Walker, Kemba embraced the challenge of guarding IT in his second homecoming and frankly doing something he’s done his entire career. “I always thought I played defense like this. You just haven’t seen me,” Walker said. “Brad, his system is pretty good defensively. I’m just in the right spots. Picking my spots when to pressure the basketball.”
Spectacular defensive possession from Kemba pic.twitter.com/vlMWJSlyLO— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) November 14, 2019
And for Walker, he’s sees the big picture of his defensive effort. “My teammates feed off my energy. I’m starting to realize that more and more,” Walker said after both teams shot over 50% from the floor in a game that looked more like pre-season fare than regular season competition. “And in order for us to be good, man, we’re going to have to be great on that end of the floor. I can’t say it enough: It starts with me.”
To Walker’s credit, he was fairly solid all night. There were several moments when he’d get hung up on a switch after a pick-and-roll and couldn’t handle the likes of Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant in the post, but for the most part, Walker did pressure the ball when he could and held his ground on close outs and drives.
In transition, there’s a tendency for players to shy away from contact and load up to make a spectacular block. Not Kemba. He understands that if he moves his feet and stays in front of the fast break, he can contend a fast break attempt by staying vertical and holding his ground.
Where Walker really excels on defense is in the half court. Without size, Walker relies on fundamentals and foot work.
He closes in rotation with square shoulders and the shuffling feet of a ballerina. Of the two star points guards that preceded him, Walker is by far the best positional point guard defender in the last five years. For fans unfamiliar with his D, Walker said, “you just haven’t seen me.” We see you now, Kemba.