Kemba Walker has had a profound impact on the Boston Celtics’ offense this year. His team has averaged 14.8 more points per 100 possession with him on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass, placing him in the 99th percentile as compared to his positional peers throughout the league.
For context, that’s a higher mark than James Harden, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, or Kawhi Leonard has ever posted. It outpaces all but one LeBron James season. It doesn’t quite reach the standard of Stephen Curry’s best years, and is actually a slightly smaller swing than the 16-17 performance that vaulted Isaiah Thomas to an MVP candidate, which Celtics fans will remember fondly.
On/off stats aren’t perfect. They provide just one color in a complex picture, and are influenced heavily by factors that fall outside the control of the players associated with them. Walker, for example, has no influence on the effectiveness of his teammates that replace him, and as such set the baseline for how great of a perceived impact he has on his team’s ability to score.
Boston’s bench isn’t stocked with tons of firepower, a reality that makes the difference between Walker’s minutes and those he spends on the bench more stark. Such caveats must be taken into account when assessing Walker’s overall offensive impact, but in this case there is still plenty of fire to accompany the statistical smoke. The Celtics offense has been great when Walker plays. Boston has posted an offensive rating of 117.9 in his non-garbage-time minutes, per Cleaning the Glass.
That Boston functions more efficiently with Kemba Walker on the court should come as no surprise. He’s a versatile scorer who heats up at a moment’s notice, as capable of blowing by you off the bounce as he is of pulling up and splashing in a jump shot from virtually anywhere on the court.
Get a bit too close and Walker will jam on the breaks at funky moments to bait you into fouling him. Stay a step behind to ensure you don’t hit him, and the jitterbug point guard will scoot quickly towards the rim and unleash any number of crafty scoops and floaters. He’s a threat to score from anywhere, and a willing enough passer to keep his teammates involved.
All that adds up to a very valuable player, one that Walker has functioned as for years, though never with quite the same impact as in his current campaign. Where Walker’s traditional box scores stats have remained relatively stagnant, his on/off offensive numbers have spiked significantly.
That’s likely a function of his environment. In Boston, Walker has found a set of more talented teammates than he’s ever played alongside before. Walker was the entire offense for his prior team, the Charlotte Hornets. With the Celtics, he’s something more like the most gifted musician in a symphony of offensive threats.
Walker isn’t quite the long-range bomber that the NBA’s most lethal pull-up artists represent. He can’t finish at the rim in the same way that the league’s athletic outliers can. He doesn’t even possess the same gravity that many three-points specialists bring both setting and running off screens away from the ball. But he comes pretty damn close to all of those things.
That enables Brad Stevens to use Walker to apply pressure to opposing defenses in a variety of ways, and it forces opponents to game plan accordingly. Allocating time and brain power to Walker means less resources are committed to thinking through how to slow down Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, and Jaylen Brown. Walker has never had enough offensively gifted players surrounding him for the attention he draws to really matter.
That’s shifted since signing in Boston, and the Celtics offense is benefiting immensely.