The Boston Celtics have been hampered by a slew of injuries and positive COVID tests to start the 2020-21 season. Their best starting five have played less than a handful of games together. The team just finished up a West Coast road trip with a loss to the Utah Jazz, going 2-3 in the five games played on the opposite coast. Sitting at 12-11, the season is far from over, but Boston has some things to work out before anyone can start talking about a repeat run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
One of those things is Kemba Walker. Walker missed the first chunk of the season to rehab a knee injury that's been bothering him since the latter half of the 2019-20 season. He battled through the pain to give the Celtics a much-needed boost at times during their playoff run in the bubble, and paid the price in missing the first 13 games of this shortened season. Since returning, though, Walker has been anything but his usual self.
After taking a few games to ramp up his minutes and get back into the flow of things, Walker played the more central role to the team's offense that he did last season over the last seven games. His season numbers are bad. He's averaging nearly as many field goal attempts (15.6) as he is points per game (15.9). He's shooting merely 35 percent from the floor and 30 percent from three-point land. His last two games in particular have been ugly; Walker shot 4-of-20 against the Phoenix Suns before shooting 2-of-12 in last night's loss.
This has led to a lot of concern about Walker's ability to positively impact games and if the Celtics really are better off with Walker down the stretch when it comes to playing playoff basketball. Such discussion is, of course, a little ridiculous; Walker is a player who relies heavily upon his explosion and quick-twitch ability and is coming off a knee injury that very much hinders that. The fact that he's shooting enough bricks to build a lovely home can easily be attributed to the fact that he went from September to late January without playing live basketball thanks to his rehab. It takes a bit to get into the groove of things.
Most important to keep in mind besides the reasonable expectations for a player in Walker's situation is that the point guard has always been streaky. Not so much during individual outings, but there will be stretches that last a week where Walker can't hit a shot to save his life. It's been a recurring theme throughout his career. And he always bounces back. There's no reason to think he can't do so now.
Take last season. Before Walker's knee issues really started to affect his game, there was a series of matchups when he was simply bad. A week's worth of games from December 20-27 saw Walker average 15 points per game while shooting only 39 percent from the floor and 34 percent from deep. He failed to top 23 points scored in any of those four games. Over the next four games, he scored 21 points a night while shooting 48 percent. Bounce-back.
It dates back to his Charlotte days. Back then it was more understandable when Walker would go cold, since he was the only player on the team capable of scoring a basket most nights. But the trend remains the same, even if those cold stretches are a bit longer. From November 21 to December 15 of 2018, Walker completely lost his shot and only managed to average 19 points per game while shooting 35 percent from the floor and 27 percent from three over 13 games played. His best game in that stretch was a 31-point outing, but it took him 25 shots to get there and he only made eight. Over the next 13 games, Walker averaged 25 PPG, shooting 45 percent from the field and 37 percent from deep. Bounce-back!
It's simply his nature as a player. Even the most high-volume of shooters will have bad nights. The very best don't let it carry over to the next night. Walker isn't in that tier of scorer, but he's in the following tier, the kind of player who struggles for a few games then proceeds to make up for it with a handful of big games. It can be maddening, no doubt about that. And Walker's small stature means that when he's not scoring, he's a huge net negative with a lack of impact on the defensive end of the floor.
But Walker has proved time and time again that he can and will rebound after tough performances. His defense will always be a problem, but more often than not he makes up for it with offensive firepower. He doesn't look any different out there, so there is no reason yet to assume Walker is washed and the knee issue signifies the decline of a great scorer.
The shots just aren't falling. They will. Walker just needs time.