Don't look now -- but the NBA season is less than a month away, with Opening Night set for December 22, four weeks from Tuesday.
And as the new-look Celtics roster prepares to court for the first time, one of the biggest questions involves the health of Kemba Walker. Will the knee injury that nagged the C's All-Star point guard throughout his first season of Boston be healed after a shortened offseason? Or will he be good to go?
According to Brad Stevens, the C's are ready to take a cautious approach.
"The key to this whole thing with him is just strengthening the knee. Just continuing to take this opportunity when we’re not playing, when we’re not practicing to really focus on that," Stevens said during the Bob Ryan and Jeff Goodman Podcast on the CLNS Media Network. “Very similar to what we did at the beginning of the bubble. I think there’ll be a transition like that because of the shortened season, the shortened offseason. It’ll be some time before he’s going full speed for us for sure.”
But what will that entail in a 72-game season that starts less than three months after the Celtics' last campaign ended? While Stevens wasn't specific about the team's plans for Walker, he knows the team can ill afford to put too much on his plate right off the bat since a healthy Walker is critical to the team's success.
“We haven’t settled on any timelines. This is more of a plan appropriately thing, so that he can play and play uninhibited as he moves forward, a lot like the bubble,” Stevens told Goodman and Ryan. “The bubble was unique, because you went basically four months off, so there was a different challenge there in that ramping up was a big threat to everybody. But certainly if you had a situation like his, where if he goes too fast, too soon that probably wouldn’t have been good. Here it’s just too soon until the season. So I anticipate, again, we’ll be slow with him as the season starts, as practice starts.”
Walker was on a minutes restriction when the 2019-20 season started up inside the Orlando bubble, and he averaged a shade over 25 minutes in the games leading up to the playoffs, missing two of eight contests. That's a big drop from his season average of almost 32 minutes per game before the season went on pause.
And while Walker's minutes piled up in the playoffs, his outside shooting dipped to just 31 percent, a considerable drop-off from his 38 percent shooting from beyond the arc in the regular season. Even though he averaged almost 20 points per game in the postseason, Danny Ainge knew in October that Walker wasn't playing at full strength.
"Watching the games, even the games we won, even the games where he played well, I could tell he wasn't the same, physically, as he was in October, November, December," Ainge said last month. "So we're going to try to get that Kemba back.”
Considering how good Walker was at the start of last season, getting that Kemba back would definitely be a great thing for the 2020-21 Celtics.