Saturday, March 28, 2020

Kemba Walker is the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics.  A 3 x All Star, and 1 x All NBA. A selfless player, he is capable of taking over games with his elite level offense or his elite playmaking skills. Below i will look into Kemba’s tendencies and how they fit into Boston’s style of play.

Basic Info

Position: PG, Age: 29, Height: 6’1, Contract: 4 Years / $140,790,600.

Career Stats: 19.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 5.5 APG, 41.8 FG%, 35.7 3%.

18-19 Stats: 25.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 5.9 APG, 43.4 FG%, 35.6 3%.

 

Good Tendencies 

P’N’R Offense
Boston’s offense relies on screens being set across the floor. With shooters coming off of pin downs and the ball handler causing havoc alongside the roll man. We saw throughout the 18-19 season with Kyrie and Horford just how effective this scheme can be when executed well. However, the keys to the offense now rest firmly in Kemba’s hands. 

During the 18-19 season Kemba was involved in 866 possessions in which he operated as the ball handler in a single coverage pick and roll situation. His performance was nothing short of brilliant. Hitting 347 of his 777 shot attempts when attacking his opponent from this play type he sits at 44.7%. Here is where i find my solace, of those 777 attempts, Kemba drew a shooting foul 77 times. It is worth noting his made free throws are not included in the 347 made shots.

Almost half of the possessions involving Kemba Walker last year involved a PnR with Kemba as the ball handler 41.8% to be exact. Furthermore Kemba ranked #1 in PnR usage throughout the whole league during the 18-19 season,  his bread-and-butter. 

This isn’t to say he is faultless in this play type though. Preferring his defender to come over the top of the pick. This allows him to put the jets on while driving forcing the D to collapse. Surprisingly defenders still opt to come over the top 57.6% of the time. Impressing in this scenario he shot 44.4% over 499 possessions turning the ball over only 5 times and drawing 50 shooting fouls. Elite describes this success perfectly! ranking in the 88th percentile for when defenders come over the top.

Not that Kemba is a slouch if defenders go under or into the screen though. Still ranking above the league average statistically. However, efficiency does decline slightly when defenders go under and turnovers increase minimally when they hit the screen.

What does this mean exactly? well, it means Kemba is comfortable operating in the PnR as the ball handler while allowing the play to develop around him. Not afraid to drive to the lane, kick out to an open shooter, hit the roll man or play the pick n pop, the Celtics have an elite level point guard in the PnR. This bodes well for a Celtics team who run a switch heavy offence involving screens set all over the floor, expect more of the same this upcoming year. 

Dribble Hand-Off’s

Throughout the 18-19 season Kemba was scarcely involved in DHO’s – only 162 possessions to be precise. Expect this number to dramatically increase this year under Brad Stevens. A staple of the Boston offence for the last 3-4 years i would not expect anything less than 300 possessions for Kemba in the upcoming season. 

Average, just average. Ranking in the 54th percentile there is no other way to describe his output from DHO’s this past year. However, there is hope that this is due to the nature of the talent he was surrounded with. If the spacing isn’t there then DHO’s become difficult to incorporate successfully. You run into defenders, play yourself into trouble with regular predictability. All this leads to forced passes, shots, drives all leading to the by-product of turnovers, misses or empty possessions. 

The system Brad implements will provide Kemba plenty of opportunity to improve upon his statistical ranking in this scenario. Whilst being surrounded by a far superior supporting cast to provide the spacing this play type requires to be successful on a regular basis. Direct impact into his APG and PPG will be noticeable should he implement and execute the read-and-react system correctly. 

Playmaking
A career assists average of 5.5 per game whilst being surrounded by poor offensive talent is no easy feat. This takes a willing and intelligent passer to achieve those numbers throughout an 8 year career on one of the leagues worst teams. Just this year Kemba averaged 5.9 APG over 82 regular season games. All whilst being surrounded by the likes of Frank Kaminsky, Nic Batum and Jeremy Lamb. I wholeheartedly expect his APG to increase now he has the likes of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward to dish the ball to. 
 
There is also the Brad Stevens affect. Which has improved the ability of every guard to play under his leadership since taking the Head Coach role in Boston. Kyrie Irving had the best statistical year over his career during the 18-19 season while also improving his APG by 1.1 assists per game. Kemba is a much more willing passer of the ball so i would expect his APG to rise by as much as 2.5 APG. However, i doubt we will see him recreate his career high of 16 assists vs the pistons in ’14.
 
As discussed during the DHO section. This is another opportunity where Kemba can increase his output just by playing within the offensive system. There will be no need for “hero ball” nor is he the type of player to get caught up in that style of play anyway. Offensively they look much more fluid than the past season with Kemba running it.
ISO
75th in the league running ISO plays 13.2% of the time the ball was in his hands. This was Kyrie Irving last year, totalling 199 possessions and shooting 45% from ISO situations only drawing 14 fouls and turning the ball over 17 times. Isn’t Kyrie meant to be the KING of ISO?.
 
53rd in the league running ISO plays 8.2% of the time the ball was in his hands. Totalling 179 possessions and shooting 43.6% drawing 17 fouls and only turning the ball over 9 times. Kemba looks a better option during ISO situations to me i will take 8.2% over 13.2% any day when the team offense is predicated on BALL MOVEMENT and not individual excellence. We saw how that turned out this season just gone. 
 

Expect Kemba to use the ISO sparingly and be looking to pass whenever the defense collapses on him. What a glorious sight to behold watching the likes of Tatum and Hayward reaping the benefits of this unselfish player drawing double teams and hitting the open man consistently. 

 

Not So Good Tendencies

Transition
The Celtics like to play on the break after their intense defense has forced a turnover or missed shot. They are not the sort of team who are happy to grind out every possession on the offensive end. Albeit they are more than willing to run half court sets. Here, is where Kemba can make an improvement in his game – in transition. Running the floor before the defense has time to get back and setup. 

This last year he ranked 291st among qualifying players for his effectiveness in transition. Involved in 330 transition possessions he provided just over 1 point per possession scoring 352 points. Of these 330 possessions he turned the ball over 34 times but did do well in drawing 42 shooting fouls. 

Now the Celtics don’t play at the pace of the Hawks or Kings. But they are by no means on of the slower teams in the league. Meaning there will likely be more transition possessions for Kemba to run as the primary ball handler. One would hope that with a better supporting cast and highly respected coaching staff, this will be a play type he can improve upon.

If he is unable to consistently run the transition, expect the ball to be in Hayward’s or Tatum’s hands during these play types. But lets give Kemba time to figure this out before exploring those other options in transition. 

Defending the spot-up shooter
Joining one of the most defensive minded teams will never be an easy task, especially when you are not an elite defender! the question is are you a willing defender? 
 
While Kemba’s defensive stats are not terrible by any means (in fact he defends certain play types deceptively well) there is one glaring issue where he under performs which will hurt this team throughout the season unless there is improvement. 
 
Ranking in just the 28th percentile (377th in the league) when guarding spot-up shooters is a cause for concern. He guarded 345 spot up shots during the 18-19 regular season those turned into 379 points – a shade over 1 point per shot. Opposing shooters hit 44% of their spot-up shots when guarded by Kemba. Only good thing here is that he only fouled 11 times and forced 29 turnovers. 

 

Playing for Brad Stevens you will either improve on defense or be hidden by the defensive scheme (as we saw with I.T.). Personally i am leaning towards improvement in this area. No longer will Kemba be given the other teams best player to guard. That task will generally fall to Marcus Smart which will free up Kemba to guard the 2nd or even 3rd option from the opposing teams offense. Statistical improvement should follow shortly after the opening game of the season due to this. Which will free up Kemba to focus on the things he does well while knowing players like Smart are tasked with locking up the Kyrie Irving’s of the league.

Cutting to the basket
A point guard is not usually expected to be the guy cutting towards the basket during an offensive set. That role is traditionally reserved for the forwards and center’s. But over the last few year’s the rise in positionless basketball. The implementation of such a style within the Celtics offensive and defensive structure, have lead to times where the guards may indeed find themselves being hit with the pass whilst cutting or curling to the basket. 
 
During the 18-19 season Kyrie found himself being the cutter 52 times as opposed to Kemba’s 17 times. This leads me to believe that there will be an inevitable increase for Kemba in situations where he is found cutting to the basket. This will not be a designed play by any means, just a product of the system. Nevertheless an improvement will need to be made in efficiency and decision making. 3 turnovers on 17 possessions isn’t great nor is scoring 0.6 points per possession when he is playing as the cutter. Albeit this is a tiny sample size it is still worth noting improvements should and mostly likely will be made. 
 
52 possessions across a regular season is still negligible. However, run them well and it is at minimum an extra 52 points per season. Just another play type to keep an eye out for when the regular season starts back up in the coming months. 

 

Conclusion

Kemba will bring undoubtedly bring a new style of play to both sides of the court. He was bought in to do just that as the team fell short of the lofty expectations of last year. And whilst he is not Kyrie Irving, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Yes Kyrie is a superstar in his own right who holds the powers of dumbledore when a ball is in his hands. But that did not work for Boston no matter what reasons have been cited. 

Ainge has done tremendously to pivot on a dime and secure the next 4 years of another All-Star guard. Who seems more suited to the style of play Brad likes to implement. One who will be grateful for the improvement in teammate talent. Grateful for the opportunity to represent the NBA’s most storied franchise. 

Yes Kemba isn’t perfect – no one is. But his play style, leadership abilities and knowledge of the Boston area from his days at college will go along way to ensuring his success here and what a fun season this is shaping up to be for us Celtics Fans.

 

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