By Michael Grammenos, PSO Research Analyst
Jul 17, 2019

Going into the offseason, the Celtics future outlook was looking like a disaster. It became clear they would be losing a superstar in Kyrie Irving, the ultimate glue guy and All-Star in Al Horford, and a solid two-way player in Marcus Morris. A lot of questions surrounded Boston with no more superstar talent and a lack of veteran experience. A major move had to be made by President of Basketball Operations, Danny Ainge, and he delivered with Cardiac Kemba.  

  • Kemba Walker and UConn defeated a Brad Stevens coached Butler team in the 2011 NCAA Championship
  • Walker leads the 2011 Draft Class in assists ahead of Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas
  • Walker made his first All-NBA team (3rd team) and his first start in an All-Star game in the 2018-2019 season 
  • Walker’s 11 playoff appearances are less than Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown individually in their 2017-2018 playoff run alone
  • Walker was #2 in clutch points in 2018-2019 with 175, 16 ahead of the #3 player, Kyrie Irving *Clutch Time: During 4th Qtr or OT, with 5 or less minutes remaining, and the game within 5 points
  • Walker was one of two NBA players (Beal) to compete in all 82 games in 2018-2019 while averaging at least 25 PPG and 5 APG 

A clear void was opened at point guard when it was made aware that Irving wasn’t returning to Boston. Terry Rozier was seeming like the most realistic option, all while writers were warning other franchises to stay away from his inconsistency. Kemba Walker brings the Celtics not only a leader, but a player who fits the Brad Stevens system. The 28.9 PPG year that Isaiah Thomas had back in 2016 was predicated off of countless screen action off the ball to get open looks. Walker is known to have a similar skill set as shown below:

via GIPHY

Not only is Walker’s skill set up there with the elites of the league, his locker room presence is second to none. Every team is at their best when the morale is high and the locker room has transparency and fluidity. Bringing that energy to Beantown is a match in paradise for Stevens and the young guys. Being on an All-NBA team and getting back to back NBA Sportsmanship Awards speaks for itself. Boston didn’t think twice about giving the shifty guard a 4yr/$140M contract. 

Boston’s Future Outlook: Playoff contender with superstar PG again leading the way

Walker is planning on bringing a new type of leadership to Boston and with only one objective in mind…winning. With the average age on the Celtics roster being 23.6 without Kemba, his veteran experience is as valuable as it gets. Walker is also only one of two players (Damian Lillard) to have double-digit pick-and-roll possessions per game as the ball handler while also succeeding in the 90th percentile. That shouldn’t change with Kanter, who’s been there with studs such as Westbrook and Lillard, being the main roll man for Walker.

A plethora of positives jump out when talking about this acquisition. All-NBA skillset, leadership, tenacity, willingness, sacrifice, respect, vet experience, etc. The main con that needs to be addressed is Walker’s ability to perform on the highest stage at the highest level. Walker has played in just a total of 11 playoff games throughout his NBA career, averaging 21.1 PPG/ 5 APG/ 3.4 RPG. Granted, he never had the talent around him to truly succeed in the postseason when the opposing defenses can lock in on him. To say Walker can’t perform in the clutch would be silly, he just hasn’t had the opportunity to show his worth deep in the playoffs. We all remember how Cardiac Kemba got his name to begin with.

via Gfycat

Future Outlook: Perennial All-Star on a top-4 playoff team 

The signing of Walker takes care of another max spot and 27% of the Celtics cap room. With 15 players on the roster, Danny Ainge seems to have his unit together barring any trades to improve the front court. Being that the Celtics are already in the luxury tax, acquiring another player with a worthy contract seems unlikely.

Danny Ainge: Time and time again, Ainge has been known to pull off a move to put the Celtics in the right direction. From acquiring the initial Big 3 in 08′, to being on the good end of one of the worst trades in NBA history, and then acquiring All-Star Gordon Hayward and superstar Kyrie Irving. Yet, in the 11 years since the beginning of the Big 3, Boston only has one title to show for it. Losing Irving and Horford, without getting anything in return, would have had the league questioning Ainge’s abilities and decisions. Acquiring Walker is now the next step in Ainge’s quest for #18.

Jayson Tatum: Tatum has shown a lot of flashes in his young career, notably in the 2017-2018 playoff run where he averaged 18 PPG. Known as the key cornerstone for this franchise, Tatum is expected to take a jump this year going into year 3. Tatum’s numbers took a slight rise from his rookie campaign, even with speculation of Irving holding him back:

Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets didn’t want to offer Walker the max and are now officially in complete rebuild mode. The sign-and-trade did land them a rebuilding piece in Terry Rozier. Being in the luxury tax this year hurts, but having their own 1st Rd Pick helps the wound. The Team Outlook for the Hornets doesn’t show much hope for an immediate rebuild however. Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, and PJ Washington are the new building blocks of this franchise. With the Hornets not being a big market team, Michael Jordan will be forced to rebuild from the draft and within. A prospect such as UNC’s Cole Anthony should be on the Hornets radar.  

Boston being able to strategically acquire Walker has halted what seemed to be a rebuild. Walker now gives them just about everything on the court as what they’ve had in Irving the past two years, and a massive difference off the court and in the locker room. A big emphasis for this team to be a legit contender though will lie on the shoulders of Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward. One of them is going to have to step up and be the sidekick next to Walker. Either Hayward getting back to his All-Star form or Tatum taking that next step to stardom is the key for this team to flourish.

Grade: A-

The Celtics needed to make a move after the Hornets decided they weren’t going to pay Kemba the supermax. Kemba wanted a winning culture and Boston needed a new leader. On came UConn’s leading NBA scorer into Beantown.  

Bottom Line: Boston replaced its superstar PG void with New England product Kemba Walker, making this a great fit for both sides.

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