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Tales from CelticsBlog Slack: Marcus Smart-Kemba Walker debate

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With the staff safely quarantined all across the world, our Slack channel has been a good place for our writers to kick around a few ideas.

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Marcus Smart may not be an All-Star, but he’s proven to be a starting caliber point guard. He’s one of the league’s best defenders and Brad Stevens can’t keep him off the floor in crunch time. Could Kemba Walker be dealt for a big man during the off-season?

Adam Taylor: I’ve been a believer that the Celtics would be better served with a pass first PG than another scoring guard such as Kemba for a while now. Smart has shown an ability to move the rock reliably, and has performed admirably in Kemba’s absences this year.

I’m not saying the Celtics will move Kemba, but it’s not a terrible idea imo. Also food for thought - Lonzo would be an amazing fit with Jaylen and Jayson

Jeremy Stevens: Not crazy, only because the Jays and Smart are so used to playing through their teammates being injured that they’re comfortable taking games over with or without Kemba. Targeting a big man specifically is something I’m not sure about. I’d only be interested in a center with elite passing.

Adam Taylor: So....Nikola Jokic? Because I would love Jokic.

Greg Brueck-Cassoli: Before I dive into my response, it’s worth noting that the answer to should Boston trade <insert player here> is always it depends on what they get back. I think Kemba has proven throughout the year that he’s been a pretty spectacular fit with Jaylen and Jayson. The Celtics have scored 116.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the court. That’s absurd, and it’s directly tied to the fact that he’s more of an offensive weapon than a player like Smart.

I’d be willing to entertain an argument that’s based on Kemba’s defense being a liability, but even then I don’t think they’d be able to get anyone in return that provides more value (no chance they could land someone like Jokic with Walker as bait). I’d think Boston would be best served keeping both players, and switching Smart in for Walker if teams are able to effectively pick on him to a degree that his offensive impact doesn’t compensate for.

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Adam Taylor: Totally agree that the concept of trading Kemba hinges on the return. And while I do agree that he’s a good offensive weapon to have, I do think that he’s somewhat overkill on the team. There are only so many shots to go around, and Tatum is emerging as the teams closer. Which begs the question of, can the money spent on Kemba be used elsewhere?

Smart is a capable floor general who raises the teams defensive ceiling when on the floor. Kemba raises a teams offensive ceiling, but that isn’t exactly what Boston needs right now

Greg Brueck-Cassoli: This is where we differ in opinion. Boston’s offense without Walker on the court scores 109.4 points per possession that’s equivalent to the Memphis Grizzlies. No shots at Ja Morant and friends, but Walker takes the Celtics from middling to amazing. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that Smart doesn’t do incredible things for their defense, but to suggest Boston doesn’t need an offensive player of Walker’s caliber to be as good as they are is a disservice to level of importance he plays.

All this to say, the Celtics need what Walker and Smart bring to the table, and unless they can trade one of them for someone who can combine their effect - and I’m not convinced that players exists - they’re probably best served holding pat.

Adam Taylor: Here’s where my take on Walker gets murky. I feel that having a pass first point guard who could regularly quarterback the offense would provide the team with more a more balanced offensive scheme. I totally agree Kemba’s influence on offense is a positive, but as the Jays continue to improve, his influence deteriorates.

Smart isn’t the answer to my ideal point guard, but Kemba isn’t either. With Smart in the lineup, the C’s could run Hayward as the point forward, which suits my idea perfectly.

Greg Brueck-Cassoli: I’m of the mindset that pass-first point guards are a thing of the past. Give me five players capable of doing as many things as possible offensively, and I’m content. Creating a quality offensive system is all about increasing unpredictability. The best version of that involves players that could be high usage, but are bought into working collectively. The Celtics have created that kind of ecosystem this year, and Walker is a primary reason why. It’s pretty rare that an NBA team can build such an egalitarian(ish) offensive structure. I’d be wary of breaking it up before seeing just how far it can take them in the postseason.

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Adam Taylor: But by prioritizing the offense in that manner, defense would surely suffer. Generally, a pass-first PG has defensive upside. Think Rondo or Lonzo. Having a defined hierarchy on offense doesn’t necessarily remove the unpredictability; it simply gives the team a primary option when the defense suffocates you in the half court. Sometimes, the C’s can have a great possession but no one knows who’s meant to shoot, leading to bad shots late in the clock.

While I’m all for an egalitarian offense, I think it’s much harder to implement when there are so many weapons on the roster. Instead, having a defined “bucket getter” such as JT and Jaylen as second option combined with a guard or point forward who can orchestrate provides more balance during the playoffs.

Kemba is a great player, no doubt. I just don’t think his presence is felt the way it should be due to the Jays growth this year.

Greg Brueck-Cassoli: It feels like we’re headed to a well-reasoned agree to disagree situation here, but this is the internet so I’m obligated to tell you that YOU ARE WRONG. To me, the mark against Walker defensively is the strongest point of your argument. Teams with bigger wings like LeBron James, Giannis Antetkounmpo, and Kawhi Leonard will hunt him incessantly in the playoffs. Boston does a great job of switching and scrambling, but Walker will get inevitably get targeted.

Having a bigger, more defensively skilled point guard is a solution to that problem, but what I’m suggesting is that Boston already has that on its roster. Isn’t Smart just a substantially better version of someone like Lonzo Ball? (transition play excluded).

If the Celtics were to trade Walker it should be to find someone that can solve the defensive challenges he poses, but still offers something close to the offensive dynamism he brings to the table. Beyond nabbing one of the league’s two-way wing monsters or an elite-level big, I’m not sure who that is. Maybe Jrue Holiday? Healthy Klay Thompson?

If the Celtics could get either of those two for Walker, I’d do it in a heartbeat. The same is true of any truly game changing wing or big, but I’m just not convinced they could swing a deal for anyone that is more helpful than Walker is in a trade that includes him.

I’m happy to entertain any hypotheticals you want to kick around.

Adam Taylor: I’m obligated to also accept a fair agree-to-disagree outcome. However, I will rebutt your answer by pointing out that I AM RIGHT, YOU’RE WRONG.

Holiday would be a perfect fit on the team, but I’m unsure if he is better served as a two.

Walker would be hard to replace no doubt. But if an offer to nab another elite defensive piece in return for Walker was to surface, it should definitely be considered.