Ten games into this young season, the Celtics are the most efficient team in the NBA as ball handlers in the pick-and-roll (22.5% frequency, 1.10 points per possession). That shouldn’t be a surprise. Last year, the Charlotte Hornets ranked third with Kemba Walker at the point (22.5% frequency, 0.93 points per possession). That same season, the Celtics were 7th in efficiency (0.91 points per possession), but only ran it 14.6% of the time.
Walker, obviously, is the constant. With all apologies to Robert Williams, Kemba is the lord of time. With his ability to speed up, slow down, speed up again, and stop on a dime, Walker is murder in the PnR. He may not be the shot maker that Kyrie Irving is, but he’s a master at hitting that step back mid-range or creating contact and generating free throws.
In 2018-19, Walker scored the most points per game in the pick-and-roll (11.9). So far this year, he’s up to 12.1 and increased his efficiency from to 1.01 to 1.21 points per possession.
On Friday night, Walker had his roughest shooting night since the season opener. Twelve of Walker’s nineteen shots came from behind the arc and up until the fourth quarter, he seemed to be settling for the perimeter shot. He went 1-for-11 to start the game.
And then it was crunch time.
“He’s been unbelievable all year, but certainly, at the end of games. He’s just been remarkable,” Brad Stevens said of Walker. He continued, “Kemba makes you feel like you’ve always got a chance because he makes such big baskets.”
And of course, Kemba’s play of choice is coming around a screen with the ball in his hands and surgically gutting defenses with all three levels of his scoring in the clutch.
Walker scored 14 of Boston’s 29 points in the final frame, coming off Daniel Theis screens with a live dribble. He danced in front of bigs, froze them with his footwork, and hit jumpers in their eye. He pulled up when defenses went under picks or dropped down in coverage. He attacked the rim with just the slightest step advantage on his defender. It was another virtuoso performance for the closer. “I just want to win so bad,” Walker said. “I think I kind of will those shots in.”