Celtics Spotlight: What would define a successful first season in green for Kemba Walker?

Celtics Spotlight: What would define a successful first season in green for Kemba Walker?

The Kemba Walker era in Boston will officially begin later this month, a period of time full of promise and potential for both Walker as well as the Celtics.

He has a four-year deal worth more than $140 million and has won over his teammates and coaching staff alike. And he’s a hell of a player who is coming off a season in which he was named to the All-NBA Third Team.

When it became clear that Kyrie Irving’s days in Boston were numbered, there was not a clear path anyone could find at that moment that could have made fans actually feel better about the team’s prospects going forward. But with the play of Boston’s young core of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown continuing to show growth as well as the newcomers through the draft and free agency, the Celtics have a roster built to contend with some of the better teams in the East.

But their success ultimately comes back to how good Walker is, both in terms of his play as well as his leadership. 

It's a successful season for Walker if ...

Boston finishes among the top two or three teams in the Eastern Conference. To do so would mean Walker played at a level comparable or better to what he has done in past years. It would also bode well for the Celtics’ future with Walker at the helm. He signed a four-year, $140.8 million deal with Boston this summer. Delivering a top-3 finish and putting up numbers comparable or better than what he normally does, is an absolute win-win for both Walker and the Celtics. 

It's a disappointing season for Walker if ...

The Celtics season resembles past seasons for Walker while playing in Charlotte. In eight seasons, the Walker-led Hornets made the playoffs twice and failed to get out of the first round in both instances, which isn’t all that shocking considering they were the lower seed. Boston should finish with home-court advantage at least through the first round of the playoffs this year. And remember, he’s joining a Celtics team that has gotten out of the first round each of the last three seasons, something only Golden State and Houston can also lay claim to among NBA teams. Joining a team with that kind of pedigree, one in which most of the principal pieces to that period of success are still around, should make the path towards continuing that round of postseason success more likely than not to continue. But if the Celtics fail to get out of the first round and the usual finger-pointing begins when a team fails to live up to the expectations of many, chances are high that Walker will get a good portion of the blame pie. 

2019-2020 Outlook

Walker will be named to the NBA’s Eastern Conference All-Star team for the fourth consecutive year, playing a pivotal role in the Celtics remaining firmly in the hunt for the best record in the Eastern Conference up until the latter portion of the season. Boston’s success in recent years has been fueled in large part by the team’s point guards having career-like seasons, whether it was scoring (Isaiah Thomas) or shooting efficiency (Kyrie Irving). But what will really stand out about Walker will be his assist numbers, which should reach career-high proportions. He has never averaged more than 6.1 assists per game. But with more scoring talent around him and an increased desire to get his teammates involved, better assist numbers will be part of the “new” Kemba Walker.  

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It's getting hard to defend lack of Celtics' Marcus Smart in DPoY conversation

It's getting hard to defend lack of Celtics' Marcus Smart in DPoY conversation

Finalists for the NBA’s six performance awards were unveiled Saturday and there were no Celtics on the list.

That’s not all that surprising, but the one category that will stick in the craw of Celtics fans — and Celtics players, too, evidently — is Marcus Smart not being among the finalists for Defensive Player of the Year.

Hammering home the notion that it’s become a big man-only award, the trio that did make the DPoY cut were the Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo, Lakers’ Anthony Davis, and Jazz’s Rudy Gobert. Make no mistake, all three deserve their spots and it’s much easier to quantify their defensive impact with publicly available data. Alas, the eyeball test tends to suggest that few players make the sort of impact that Smart does on the defensive end.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Sunday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

And the quarter century wait for a guard to win the award will continue, even if Smart keeps making a heck of a case for himself. It’s time the rest of the NBA take note of the way Smart impacts Boston’s defense on a nightly basis.

A global panel of sportswriters and broadcasters voted for the league awards before teams started play inside the bubble but all you need to do is rewind to Friday night for an example of what makes Smart so special on the defensive end.

It's easy to focus on the end of this sequence — with Smart lunging on the floor for a loose ball and still having the presence of mind to push the ball forward to get teammate Brad Wanamaker a transition layup. But rewind the tape to the start of the possession and watch Smart spin his way through a Serge Ibaka screen to stymie a Fred VanVleet drive. In fact, Smart ends up shuffling another 30 feet to prevent any shot attempts then, once VanVleet has given up the ball, Smart is still in position to pounce when the rock popped free.

In Friday’s game, Smart split most of his night on VanVleet, Norman Powell, and Kyle Lowry. But he also took turns on all of Toronto’s bigs, logging nearly a handful of partial possessions against Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol. None of them registered a shot attempt against Smart, telling in a situation where you might think a size mismatch would leave an opponent forcing a shot.

This is not unique for Smart. He spent nearly as much time on Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk as he did on Goran Dragic, Kendrick Nunn, and Duncan Robinson earlier in the week against Miami. Smart logged his most possession time against Antetokounmpo in Boston’s seeding game opener (and Khris Middleton was second most).

This, in a nutshell, is Smart’s case for why he deserves more consideration for Defensive Player of the Year. He’s dubbed himself a stretch-6 and often notes that he offers more defensive flexibility than the bigs who simply clog up the path to the basket. Smart wonders how those bigs would fare if they routinely picked up quicker point guards, the way he often takes on the challenge of defending 5s that have as much as a foot size advantage on him.

The Celtics have the fourth best defense in the NBA, in part, because of Smart. Even without the sort of backline defensive anchor that dominates the DPOY conversation, Boston has thrived because of the defensive tone that Smart sets.

This didn’t always feel like Smart’s best defensive season overall but it was one that really hammered home his versatility, particularly with how often he defended big men this year. He should be rewarded for that, and maybe he will be if he lands another spot on the All-Defense first team.

Until then, Smart will simply keep using these sort of snubs as motivation to show he’s among the most impactful defenders in the league. All while guarding the big men that keep taking home this trophy.

Celtics vs. Magic live stream: Watch 2020 NBA seeding game online

Celtics vs. Magic live stream: Watch 2020 NBA seeding game online

The Boston Celtics will aim to extend their NBA seeding game win streak to three games when they play the Orlando Magic inside the Florida bubble on Sunday night.

The Celtics are coming off back-to-back wins versus the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors. The victory over the Raptors was particularly impressive given Toronto's status as the second-place team in the Eastern Conference. The C's also snapped the Raptors' 11-game win streak, which was the longest active streak in the league at the time.

The Magic are the eighth seed in the East and still have a chance to jump ahead of the Brooklyn Nets for the No. 7 seed. Orlando is currently slated to play the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the 2020 NBA playoffs, which probably would be a sweep for the conference leaders. Getting out of the No. 8 seed and taking part in the No. 2 vs. No. 7 first-round matchup would be ideal for the Magic, so they certainly have something to play for Sunday versus the Celtics.

Speaking of seeding, if the Celtics beat the Magic, they will clinch the No. 3 seed in the East.

NBC Sports Boston has you covered with complete coverage of Celtics vs. Magic, starting at 4 p.m. ET with "Celtics Pregame Live". Tip-off is scheduled for 5 p.m. on NBC Sports Boston, with complete postgame analysis after the final buzzer on "Celtics Postgame Live."



BEFORE THE GAME: At 4 p.m., Celtics Pregame Live presented by TD Bank gets you ready for the game with reports from Mike Gorman, Brian Scalabrine, Kyle Draper, Kendrick Perkins, Abby Chin, Chris Forsberg and A. Sherrod Blakely. Watch on NBC Sports Boston or click here for the live stream.

AT HALFTIME: Tune in to watch a breakdown of the first two quarters on Celtics Halftime Live. Watch on NBC Sports Boston or click here for the live stream.

AFTER THE GAME: As soon as the game ends, tune to Celtics Postgame Live presented by New England Ford for analysis, commentary and player reaction. Watch on NBC Sports Boston or click here for the live stream

Questions on our livestream? Get all your questions answered here on our Streaming FAQ.



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