Thursday morning, during his weekly download with 98.5’s “Toucher & Rich,” Boston Celtics’ president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made one thing absolutely crystal clear when it comes to Kemba Walker:
He’s not worried. Not at all.
“I think he is going through a funk,” said Ainge when asked about Kemba’s uncharacteristically poor play this season. “He is just in a little bit of a shooting slump. I am not worried about that, though. He’s had shooting slumps before in his life, he’ll get out of this one.”
Starting the season late following stem cell injections in his left knee, the four-time All-Star Walker has struggled mightily to find his shot. In his first game back—a 30-point loss to the Knicks on January 17—Walker went 3-for-13, including 1-for-8 from the 3-point line, with five turnovers. Opening day jitters, perhaps.
But since then he’s shot over 50% in a game just twice, and his overall 34.2% from the field is a career low by a wide margin. Meanwhile, Walker’s 30.6% from behind the arc is his lowest since 2014-15.
“I’m not concerned,” assured Ainge, insisting that no one is immune to a funk. “Obviously, we would like for him to be playing better and making more shots. But you know, even the best players go through stretches where they struggle to make shots.”
No Regression of the Knee
Rather than fixating on what Walker hasn’t done well this season, Ainge was more inclined to focus on Walker’s health, particularly the progress he’s made rehabbing his troubled left knee. There have been murmurs in the press that his knee is not fully back.
“I feel like the best news is that Kemba has just been healthy and hasn’t regressed, so that’s the most positive,” Ainge said. “He looks good physically. I like what I see in Kemba’s movement, I think it’s better than it was in the bubble and in the playoffs last year, I think he’s worked hard to get the strength back in his knee. I don’t think it is as much physical as it is there is such a focus on trying to shut him down. We just need to do a better job of getting him better shots.”
Ainge pointed to one of Walker’s best games so far this season as proof that his struggles are more funk than health-related. “He had a terrific game against the Clippers just on the weekend, two games ago,” said Ainge. Walker scored 24 on 9-for-19 shooting in Boston’s surprising 119-115 victory over the Clippers the first week of February. He also added four assists against just one turnover. “So it’s not like that we see that he can’t do it. It’s just that I’m not that worried about it right now.”
An Encouraging Example
During the conversation, Ainge also speculated that Walker’s “funk” could be somewhat explained by simply not having played enough, coupled with the chemistry issues that, especially now, often accompany entering a season late and not being fully integrated into a team’s scheme.
“I feel like we will be able to figure out ways for him to contribute offensively and get better with that as time goes on,” said Ainge. “It is a sample of, what, I don’t know, 10 games now. That’s not a lot especially in this world we are living in with very little practice and time to really get cohesive. It’s really not a lot of time.”
Ainge gave the example of top-tier point guard Mike Conley, who moved to the Utah Jazz before last season after 12 years with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Jazz currently have the best record in basketball.
“Mike Conley has been amazing this year,” said Ainge. “He was in a funk all year last year for Utah. And the year before he played great. Utah acquired him, everybody thought, this is going to transform their team. And he just didn’t have a good year. He didn’t play well, he didn’t make shots. To their credit, they didn’t give up on him and this year, he is having as good a year as he’s ever played.”
Similarly, Ainge and the Celtics are not ready to give up on Kemba.
“We like Kemba. We know what he’s capable of doing,” Ainge said.