July 20, 2019
When Kyrie Irving came to Boston two seasons ago, he brought talent and potential that the Boston Celtics hadn’t seen since they had a Big Three in the late 2000’s. Unfortunately, he also brought baggage: a personality that was not in tune with the locker room Brad Stevens had cultivated and a general unhappiness that lingered around the Celtics like a blinding fog, preventing their quest for playoff success last season.
This offseason brought an unprecedented level of change to the league and the Celtics were no exception. Most notably, the team was altered by the departure of Kyrie Irving to the Brooklyn Nets and the arrival of another all-star guard, Kemba Walker.
The two have similar games, but Kyrie is a more talented player than Kemba. That point isn’t really up for debate. His shooting numbers and scoring ability are nearly unrivaled by other Eastern Conference guards. However, Kemba is no small consolation prize. His ability and numbers are close enough to Irving and when you factor in the leadership intangibles Kemba possesses, he will be a much better fit with this young Celtics roster.
Last season Kemba played with a roster in Charlotte where the second best player on the roster was either Nicholas Batum or Jeremy Lamb. Not to knock those guys, but after that, the roster gets much worse. It’s impressive that this team was even competing for a playoff spot and Kemba is a big reason for that. He managed to pour in a high volume of scoring while putting his teammates in position to score whether it was playmaking or drawing defensive attention away from other shooters. In Boston, it’s assumed that he won’t be asked to shoulder as much of a load in order to create balance and to develop of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
If this iteration of the Celtics wants to remain competitive in a vastly improved Eastern Conference then they’ll need 6-7 guys to average double figures. There was plenty of iso-ball on the court last year for the Celtics as they struggled to move the ball down the stretch, especially in playoffs. With the departure of Kyrie and Marcus Morris (the subject of many mid-range jumper jokes on NBA Twitter and Reddit alike) there is far greater potential to have a fun team with a cohesive offense. The loss of Al Horford will hurt, but the addition of new draft picks Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, and Carsen Edwards will inject a little more life into a squad that seemed to lack it last season.
Kemba projects to be better than Irving was defensively during his tenure with the Celtics. Although Kemba is a bit smaller, he brings a higher energy to the defensive side of the ball when fighting through screens and guarding on-ball. According to the newest defensive metric rating (DRAYMOND Rating) from Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, Kyrie was a -1.01 defender last season while Kemba was a +.62. This new metric places a heavier emphasis on closing out and contesting shots rather than team defensive rating.
The final factor to consider here is that Kemba could benefit a lot from the simple change in scenery. I imagine it was exhausting to spend the first half of his career with the Hornets/Bobcats organization for someone who won a national championship during his final year of college. Kemba wants to win, and much to the delight of Danny Ainge, it seems that he’s come to the right place.
Link for DRAYMOND Ranking scores: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/a-better-way-to-evaluate-nba-defense/
Damon Bailey - ATG Writer
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