During Boston’s four-game winning streak heading into the All-Star break, Kemba Walker was on a tear, averaging 23.3 points and 5.6 assists per game in that homestand. But in the Celtics first game of the second half of the schedule, Walker scored only 11 on twelve shots in Brooklyn.
It may have been a one-game anomaly as players start to ramp up for the restart of the regular season, but it’s a just another subpar performance that’s part of a larger trend between Walker’s output and Boston’s win-loss record. As CelticsBlog’s Will Bjarnar points out:
In wins for the Celtics, Kemba scores the third-most points, a respectable and efficient 22.3. He does so on 45-percent shooting from both the field and from three. He also leads the team in box plus-minus with a 10.1 mark. That’s better than Jaylen Brown (9.6) and Jayson Tatum (9.3), both of whom lead the team in scoring and field goal percentage in wins, and only trail off noticeably in their shooting beyond the arc when the team loses.
Yet in losses, Kemba turns in flop after flop — performances, not drawn fouls. He suddenly shoots just 33 percent from the field and 27 percent from three. His box plus-minus drops by 19.2 from his performance during wins, all the way down to - 9.1. It’s natural for plus-minus differentials to be stark between wins and losses. Just not particularly this stark, and certainly on a team that isn’t losing in blowouts.
Today’s game against the Rockets will mark just the 15th that Walker will play alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The Celtics are just 7-7 when all three are available, but they’ve started to gel again and pick up right where they left off in the bubble. However, with Walker returning from an offseason knee procedure, there’s still a concerted effort to get him back into form.
“I think we’ve got to do a better job of helping Kemba and I’ve said that several times this year. I think that’s it’s really important to put him in position to have success and play to his strengths,” Brad Stevens said yesterday after practice.
“He does a great job. He’s so unselfish that he will defer, but we need him to be the guy he can be, scoring and keeping defenses on their heels in actions for him, in secondary actions for him and when a play breaks down, getting the ball to the second side. It’s really important.”
Since arriving in Boston, Walker has always publicly taken a back seat to his now two All-Star teammates and been more of a mentor of sorts. However, Walker is still capable of averaging 20+ points a game and Stevens knows that for the Celtics to do anything significant in the playoffs, Walker has to assert himself more. That point isn’t lost on Kemba either.
“I think I could hunt shots a little more,” Walker said after taking just five shots in the Celtics’ 121-109 loss to the Nets on Thursday. Watching film of some of the games, I think I turned down a few shots, a few opportunities. Spot ups, I can take more spot ups when my guys give me the basketball. So yeah, I just think I can hunt shots a little more. Be a little more aggressive.”
In his last four seasons in Charlotte, Walker was a top-5 scorer out of the pick-and-roll, but those numbers have dropped considerably since coming to Boston. Part of that is the talent upgrade around him and part of that is just Kemba being Kemba.
“When I’m out there, I’m just trying to get the ball moving, just play at a same level, try to let everybody touch the basketball,” Walker said. “Sometimes it can be a tough balance, especially when another guy really has it going. I just gotta find a way to be aggressive, to take the shots I need to take.”