Celtics Lead

Is Kemba Enough to Help Celtics Compete?


The Celtics managed to turn an abysmal situation into a positive one this past Sunday. Kemba Walker verbally agreed to sign a four-year, $141 million deal with the Celtics, replacing Kyrie Irving in the starting lineup.

Still, the Celtics have some work to do. They got their starting point guard, but there are weaknesses still unaddressed in the lineup. While the Celtics took a step back this summer, plenty of other teams are moving forward without them. With all the changes in star power this offseason, Celtics fans all find themselves asking the same question: Is Kemba enough?

What Walker Adds

The addition of Walker helps the Celtics in a few ways. For one, it adds health and consistency. Over the past four seasons Walker has missed a total of just six games. Irving, on the other hand, missed 76 games over the same span, almost a full season more than Walker. The Celtics are guaranteed more games out of their starting point guard with Walker in the lineup.

Last season, Walker’s scoring numbers slightly topped Irving’s. Walker managed to do that as the number one option with no help. Defenses were able to swarm and focus on Walker alone since he was the only threat.

With better options around him, Kemba will see more openings and scoring opportunities. He’ll have easier ways to get his own buckets with deeper talent around him. Not only that, but his passing will likely improve as well.

Kemba Walker has spent his entire professional career in Charlotte. Following a career year, he swaps spots with Terry Rozier (image via Maddie Meyer/Getty Images).

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens emphasizes passing and ball movement in his offense. Bleacher Report’s series Game of Zones once dubbed the Celtics “Spurs of the east” due to their ball movement and playing style. When Walker is inserted to Boston’s lineup, his passing will likely increase just as Irving’s did.

Irving, who played with LeBron James and Kevin Love, set a career-high in assists with the Celtics. Walker averaged just one fewer assist per game than Irving with Jeremy Lamb as his second option. With deeper weapons and a stronger system, Walker could easily match the passing production Irving managed last season.

Walker is a legitimate point guard in this league. He’s steadily improved each year of his career and shown he’s a winner. He helped lead the Bobcats to the playoffs in just his third season, and emphasized the importance of winning in a letter to Celtics fans.

“I’m a winner,” Walker said. “I want to win here, badly…I want to elevate myself into that Boston winning tradition. I want to get this team back on top.”

The bottom line is that the Celtics are better with Walker than without. He’s easily a step in the right direction, but is he enough?

Weaknesses in the Lineup

The Celtics need Walker’s health and consistency now that they lost their backup point guard. The only other point guards on the roster  are rookies Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters. While both have some promising talent, they’re unproven in the NBA.

When Walker isn’t on the floor the Celtics will have trouble finding a reliable point guard. They don’t have enough cap space to sign a veteran, and Marcus Smart hasn’t played the position since his early years in the league. Brad Wanamaker is returning, but his services aren’t highly sought after for a reason. A solid yet inconsistent and unreliable player to give big minutes off the bench to night in night out.

Additionally, Al Horford’s departure hurts the Celtics inside. While he didn’t put up numbers or statistics of an All-NBA center, he did have a huge impact on the court. His defensive intelligence was key for the Celtics, and while he didn’t block every shot inside he could disrupt them. He anchored the defense and made things harder for opponents.

The Celtics will run with either Enes Kanter, Robert Williams III, or Daniel Theis (who recently re-signed on a 2-year, $10 million deal) at center next season. Kanter is arguably one of the worst defensive centers, if not players in the league. He adds rebounding and offense, but lacks a presence inside to intimidate opponents.

Robert Williams III played solid basketball during his rookie season, averaging 2.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG and 1.3 BPG in just 8.8 minutes per game (image via ClutchPoints).

Williams III looked solid in his limited time but hasn’t played enough for an opinion to be formed on his play. If he keeps making positive strides, he could be a solid, Clint Capela type player. A rim runner who grabs rebounds and plays solid defense, but he’s not there quite yet.

To roll with Theis as a starter would be a stretch for Stevens. The big man has been a backup his whole career, and for a reason. He’s not a bad player, but he performs best against other bench players. He hasn’t shown an ability to dominate or even play reliable, solid basketball against other starting centers in the league.

Losing Horford is a huge step back for Boston, and Walker and Kanter don’t seem like enough to make up for the loss yet.

Improving Eastern Conference

The expectation from most fans is to stay at or near the top of the eastern conference. Walker’s arrival definitely helps the case, but other teams in the east are committed to not letting that be enough.

The Philadelphia 76ers lost Jimmy Butler and JJ Reddick. In the same day, they retained Tobias Harris and added Josh Richardson and Al Horford. They look just as strong, if not stronger, than last year. Boston’s conference rival will make life difficult all season long and seem prepared to redeem their heartbreaking exit from the playoffs this season.

The Brooklyn Nets, who were supposed to be miserable for another ten years, just added Irving, DeAndre Jordan and two-time finals MVP Kevin Durant. It’s difficult to say if Durant will come back the same, but regardless the Nets look loaded. They have a plethora of young talent and a head coach that inspires a winning culture. If things in the locker room remain unchanged, the Nets look poised to make a deep run in the east.

After capturing his second NBA Finals MVP award, Kawhi Leonard could be on the move this summer. Plenty of stars have already found new homes for next season, adding parity and strength to the Eastern Conference (image via Yahoo Sports).

The Miami Heat lost Dwyane Wade to retirement and traded Hassan Whiteside to the Portland Trail Blazers. In return for the big man, Miami received playoff hero Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless (Harkless later send to the Clippers). They also added a top two-way player in the league in Jimmy Butler. This team missed the playoffs by just two games last season and look ready to make a run to the postseason next year.

The Pacers added Jeremy Lamb and Malcolm Brogdon, who somewhat quietly had a 50-40-90 season. Victor Oladipo will return full strength and Myles Turner will hopefully continue to improve. The team that Boston swept out of the playoffs last season will be stronger than it’s been in years this coming season.

Kawhi Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins and others remain on the open market. Any number of teams in the east could improve and leave the Celtics in their rearview mirrors. Walker is an incredible help to the Celtics and is a step in the right direction. But he might also just be a start, a step in the right direction at a time when a step isn’t enough.

The bottom line is this: Kemba Walker is a stud, and he helped the Celtics at a time they desperately needed it. He’s a great signing for Boston.

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About Jared Penna

Jared was born and raised in central Massachusetts and is currently studying journalism at Quinnipiac University. Currently writes for TLSM's Celtics Lead branch.

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