When the Boston Celtics made the move to acquire Kemba Walker during the summer of 2019, hopes were high that the All-Star floor general could help the team ascend to a higher level of hoopage. Two years later, he was salary-dumped from the team and replaced at the point by Marcus Smart.
It was a turn of events that apparently caught the 31-year-old off guard. Consequently, he finds himself looking to get at least some small measure of revenge on October 20 when his current team, the New York Knicks, plays host to the Beantowners to open the 2021-22 NBA season.
“Does it matter [that we’re playing Boston]? Of course. It’s my old team,” Walker said, via the New York Daily News. “But I don’t go into any game thinking I want to lose, you know? So, I definitely want to win. Does it make it that much better that it’s my old team? Yeah, no question.”
What Went Wrong With the Celtics
In terms of his raw production, Walker performed more or less as advertised during his two-year run in Boston. The four-time All-Star and 2011 NCAA champion averaged a respectable 19.9 points, 4.8 assists and 3.9 rebounds per contest as a Celtic, while connecting on 37.2% of his three-point shots.
However, he also appeared in just 99 games over that span. In his eyes, that lack of availability is likely what led to his being shipped out of town.
“I’ve never been expected to be traded from a team, especially just because of the person I am and the kind of teammate I am, but obviously it’s not about that. It’s about what you bring to the table, and I wasn’t there all the time on the court,” he said. “So, obviously, that was an issue. So, I guess that’s why it didn’t work.”
Although Walker probably can’t be blamed for his lingering left knee issues, there’s no debating that they played a large role in lowering Boston’s ceiling last season. After the team reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2020, it stumbled to a .500 record and a first-round exit the following year while Walker made just 43 appearances.
His fit next to stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown was awkward, too. The Celtics were positive in the 586 minutes the three shared on the court, but not by much — that trio logged a net rating of just 1.0. And Boston’s 16-13 record in games where the three played together left something to be desired.
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Getting His Groove Back
Although Walker played relatively well for the Celtics, his situation with the Knicks should be at least equally fruitful. Basketball Reference‘s simple projection system is predicting a year in which he averages 22.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per 36 minutes.
Those marks would be right in line with the standard he has set for himself in recent years. And if he can muster that kind of line while appearing in more games for the Knicks — who may need his scoring and playmaking more than the Celtics did — he’ll be a major difference-maker for the team.
At the least, he expects to be more available than he was previously.
“I’m feeling really good,” Walker said. “I’ve been available. I’ve been here. I’ve been here all practices. I’ve been able to play in all the preseason games. They rested me for the one. But as far as back to backs, just trying to take it game by game just depending on how I’m feeling, but it’s not like I’m not playing back to backs. That’s not my thought process.”