The Celtics’ 2019-20 season has gotten off to a very solid start, and much of that is thanks to Kemba Walker.
Boston made a splash by bringing in the now-former Charlotte Hornets point guard, and it’s paid dividends for Brad Stevens and Co. Walker hasn’t blown everyone away by taking over the Celtics’ offense, but instead meshing perfectly with Boston’s core.
Through 23 games, the Celtics have four players averaging at least 17.5 points. Walker leads the charge at 23.1, but Jayson Tatum (20.6), Jaylen Brown (19.3) and Gordon Hayward (17.5) all have helped pace Boston’s offense. When one isn’t going, chances are a few of the others are.
Take Thursday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, for example. Philly’s bigger lineup and physical perimeter defenders kept Tatum and Brown very quiet, especially in the early going. Walker responded by posting 21 first-half points on 7-of-13 shooting. Wednesday’s matchup with the Indiana Pacers rang to a similar tune, as the 29-year-old had 24 points in his opening 17 minutes.
But if it’s not going his way, Boston isn’t going to force feed Walker and derail any flow and rhythm on the offensive end. When Philadelphia shut down the point guard during Thursday’s second half, Hayward and bigs Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis stepped up to the plate. That trio led the way with 13, 12 and nine points, respectively, to keep the Celtics in it down the stretch.
Bottom line: Kemba understands the flow of Boston’s system. He knows when to insert himself, and he knows when to step back. If Tatum starts off hot, run through him, don’t force your way into the offense. That was a problem last season with Kyrie Irving, who oftentimes broke up effective rhythms in attempts to re-insert himself into the game.
Everyone knows Walker, Tatum, Brown and Hayward are Boston’s go-to guys. Unlike last year’s group, where the luxury of depth quickly became an issue, the 2019-20 Celtics know who’s carrying the load. There’s plenty of variation within that group from night to night, but the rest of the team knows that’s who they’re looking toward. It starts with Walker, and he’s been a successful conductor thus far.
It’s clear Walker is the go-to scorer. But when things aren’t going his way, he has a tremendous core to lean on, which prevents him from forcing things with the ball. Whether that began with the U.S. men’s national team at the FIBA World Cup, or three months ago at the Auerbach Center doesn’t matter. It’s working through 23 games, and likely will for the remaining 59.