Celtics’ Looming Problem: What’s Wrong with Kemba Walker?

Kemba Walker, struggling Celtic

Getty Kemba Walker, struggling Celtic

For the Celtics, All-Star point guard Kemba Walker has been back on the floor for four of the last five games after sitting out five post-All-Star break games with swelling in his knee. Walker insists the knee is healed and not a problem. The numbers, though, say it hasn’t been the same Kemba Walker.

“I think I’m getting some pretty good looks, man,” Walker told reporters after Sunday’s game. “Just not going down.”

That’s an understatement. Since coming back, he has scored just 14.8 points and logged 4.3 assists. He has shot 30.5 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from the 3-point line. Walker’s trips to the free-throw line (4.0) are down and his turnovers (2.5) are up.

Tuesday’s win on the road against the Pacers was good medicine for the Celtics—they staved off another late-game collapse this time—but the lingering negative was the inability of Walker, again, to find any kind of rhythm. He was 3-for-12 from the field and 2-for-8 from the 3-point line.

Walker’s numbers before the All-Star break were impressive: 21.8 points, 5.0 assists, 42.9 percent shooting, 38.8 percent from the 3-point line, 4.5 trips to the free-throw line, 2.1 turnovers. That’s the guy the Celtics thought they were getting when they doled out a four-year, $141 million contract for him this summer.

The version of Walker we’ve seen over the last six weeks, though, has done as much harm as good. It may be that he just needs some adjustments to his shot. Or it may be that the knee is still bothering him, even as he says it is not a problem.

The Celtics are running out of time to figure out what, exactly, is wrong with their star point guard.

Fourth-Quarter Woes have Dogged Kemba Walker

With Walker in such a slump, it’s little wonder the Celtics have struggled, especially in the fourth quarter of games. Walker has taken the second-most shots on the team in the fourth quarter this season, at 4.0 per game, behind only Jayson Tatum. He has a fourth-quarter plus/minus of +1.1 over the season.

In Boston’s last five games, Walker has taken 4.5 shots in the fourth quarter and made only 22.2 percent of them. His plus/minus is -4.5. That Celtics have been outscored by 5.5 points per game in the fourth quarter in the four games Walker has played since returning. They’re 1-3 in those games.

Walker does not think there is much to the slump.

“I’m gonna keep working towards it,” Walker said. “I’ll get better. … It’s tough, it’s tough for me because I know I can make those shots that I’m taking. But at the moment, it’s not falling. It happens. This is not the first time I’ve had a stretch like this in my career where I haven’t been playing so well. I’ll be better.”

Walker Struggling at the Rim

But that’s part of the Celtics’ problem—there’s no telling whether it is going to get better and with playoff seeding at stake and the postseason looming, continuing to lean on Walker is a gamble. Coach Brad Stevens said two weeks ago, when it was revealed that Walker had his knee drained after playing 29 minutes in the All-Star game, that the team did not see any long-term issues with the knee.

Fingers crossed. Walker is the highest-paid player on the team and, as such, has been an offensive focal point.

He has not been the same since coming back from injury and while the hope is that he will be able to play himself back into a rhythm, the concern is that there’s still something wrong. After all, Walker has been dealing with this going back to late January.

Even before Walker left for the All-Star game, he was struggling. He played four games in February and averaged 18.8 points on 32.8 percent shooting, though he was making a very good 38.7 percent from the 3-point line.

An indicator of how much Walker is struggling comes from his attempts in the restricted area. When Walker is healthy, he attacks the rim frequently and is a pretty good finisher. This year, through January 31, he was taking 4.1 shots per game in the restricted area, making 59.5 percent of them.

Since February 1, that’s gone down to 3.3 shots per game, making 30.8 percent.

Walker, though, insists there’s no lingering knee issue. “The knee’s good, actually,” he said on Sunday. “Really good. I’m definitely happy about that. The knee’s feeling good.”

The Celtics just need Walker’s shooting to start feeling good, too.

READ MORE: Celtics Injury Update: When Will Jaylen Brown Return?