The Pressure Is Real for Kemba Walker with Boston Celtics, but so Is the Support

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistNovember 8, 2019

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 07: Kemba Walker #8 of the Boston Celtics reacts after a play against the Charlotte Hornets during their game at Spectrum Center on November 07, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
 (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

For nearly a decade, Kemba Walker was the Charlotte Hornets' (and Bobcats') offense. But in a 108-87 homecoming win over his old squad, his new supporting cast with the Boston Celtics gave him something he didn't receive a ton of in Charlotte: help.

Walker didn't hit a single field goal in the first half Thursday, but Boston appeared to have control of the game pretty much throughout. The All-Star point guard came alive in the third, but it almost felt like gravy at that point. He didn't have to register a minute in the blowout's fourth quarter and finished with 14 points and six assists on 4-of-12 shooting.

With the Celtics, Walker lines up alongside another former All-Star in Gordon Hayward, who made the squad in the loaded Western Conference during the 2016-17 season. He also has Jayson Tatum, a rising offensive star, on the wing. Jaylen Brown has shown flashes of becoming a three-and-D standout. Role players such as Daniel Theis, Grant Williams and Marcus Smart are all competent gap-fillers.

With this team, an off night from Walker doesn't spell doom. That wasn't the case in Charlotte.

Over the course of his eight seasons with the Hornets, Walker had 184 games in which he shot 33.3 percent (the mark he posted Thursday) or worse. Charlotte was 54-130 (.293) in those games.

The organization's second-leading scorer over that span, Gerald Henderson, had less than a third of Kemba's 12,009 points.

When he was on the floor, the Hornets scored 107.3 points per 100 possessions, compared to 102.1 when he was off. That gap was even bigger if you limit the sample to the last four seasons: 112.2 with Kemba on the floor and 104.4 with him off, per PBPStats.com.

The burden he carried was immense, but that didn't lead to any resentment. The tribute video Charlotte played prior to the game brought Walker to tears:


👏 The @hornets pay tribute to their all-time franchise leading scorer, @KembaWalker! https://t.co/nqKcu7wCAL

"It was an amazing, amazing night, amazing day," the floor general told TNT's Allie LaForce after the game. "You know, a lot of love from the fans, the organization. Just really good to be back. ... I was trying to hold it in. I told myself I wasn't going to cry, but I couldn't hold it in, man. It was an amazing video."

Kemba departed the Hornets as the franchise's all-time leader in points, minutes, field goals, three-pointers, free throws, win shares and wins over replacement player. He's second in assists and third in steals.

He now goes from an organization for which he represents much of its history to one that may be the game's most storied. 

The Celtics have won a record 17 NBA titles, one more than the Los Angeles Lakers (if you count the five the Lakers secured in Minneapolis). Their list of Hall of Famers is, in a word, long. It includes Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Pete Maravich, Dave Cowens, Bill Walton, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Ray Allen. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will be in before long.

On this team, crossing opponents over in the footsteps of legends, Walker will be under far more pressure to win at the highest level than he ever was in Charlotte. But history also suggests he will have far more help from his teammates in Boston.

This Celtics squad may already be the most talented team Kemba has ever been on.

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 5: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Boston Celtics helps up Kemba Walker #8 of the Boston Celtics during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on November 5, 2019 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

After Thursday's victory, Hayward is averaging 20.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists with a 64.9 true shooting percentage. Tatum is at 21.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.

During Kemba's eight years with Charlotte, the franchise produced a total of five 20-point-per-game seasons, four of which belonged to Walker. Al Jefferson's 21.8 points per game in 2013-14 filled the fifth spot, and that campaign led to one of Walker's two postseason appearances.

There's no guarantee Hayward and Tatum stay over the 20-point threshold through the end of the season, but Hayward has done so before during his time with the Utah Jazz. This seems like the natural progression for Tatum, who showed a top-tier scorer's instincts as early as his rookie playoff run.

The three make up a versatile scoring attack in which anyone can carry the load on any given night. So far, Walker has led the team in scoring three times. Hayward has paced it twice. Tatum led the way Thursday, and he shared the scoring lead with Brown in another contest.

For the first time in his career, Walker doesn't have to carry an offense to win consistently. If he's not quite himself, he can still get by with a little help from his friends.


Unless otherwise noted, all stats current through games Thursday and courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com