BOSTON — When it comes to NBA players, the more you're around them, the more you learn.
Take Kemba Walker for example.
Before becoming a Celtic, I knew all about his killer step-back shot and the cross-over. I knew he was far more competitive than most folks outside of Charlotte realized. And how he was a pesky defender; not Marcus Smart pesky but definitely part of irritante family of NBA players at that end of the floor.
But what I didn’t anticipate was how often he gets knocked around on a night-to-night basis.
And how from time to time, he’ll linger on the floor a little longer than most Celtics fans feel comfortable with, fearful that this will be the hit that he can’t bounce back from quickly.
But as each hit passes he eventually rises to his feet, displaying an unflinching level of durability few players in the NBA possess in this era of self-preservation cloaked in the verbage known as “load management.”
And the Celtics are doing their part to keep Walker upright by giving him something in games he didn’t get nearly as much of while in Charlotte. Rest.
The Celtics aren’t in full-blown load management mode when it comes to Walker, but there’s no mistaking how they have gone about finding a balance between him playing superstar-like minutes while still getting proper in-game rest along the way.
The results thus far have been impressive.
Walker is still putting up All-Star level numbers (23.4 points, 5.0 assists, 4.5 rebounds) for a Celtics team that at 11-2 has the best record in the Eastern Conference.
And here’s the kicker.
He’s doing it in 33.5 minutes per game, the fewest he has averaged since his rookie season.
Walker is following the path blazed by Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving as far as being a more efficient All-Star, both in terms of his play and how his playing time is being utilized with the Celtcs.
And while his durability is unquestioned (he has missed six games total in the last four years), we know at some point all those minutes logged will catch up to him and make playing at the elite level that he’s at now, far more difficult than it is currently.
No one is giving too much thought to how many minutes Walker is playing and its impact down the road.
But as the wins keep piling up and the confidence of this team keeps growing, at some point sooner rather than later, the Celtics have to do all they can to best ensure that Walker is as close to being 100 percent health-wise going into the postseason.
We see teams across the league resting their top players from time to time for no other reason than to give them a night off, with the intent being to keep them as fresh as possible for when the games matter most.
The success that the Toronto Raptors had last season while resting Kawhi Leonard spoke to the best-case-scenario for using “load management” to benefit your top players.
Now with the Los Angeles Clippers, we see that Leonard continues to be on load-management restrictions.
The Clippers will host the Celtics on Wednesday, with no indication whether Leonard will play for the first time with his new running mate Paul George, who recently returned to the lineup following offseason surgery on both shoulders.
And while the Clippers (8-5) haven’t been nearly as successful in the regular season than the Leonard-less Raptors were a year ago, that doesn’t matter.
The Clippers are playing for an NBA title this year, and are confident that a healthy Leonard — regardless of their playoff seeding — can make that happen.
Meanwhile, Boston didn’t come into the season with a roster built to compete for and potentially win an NBA title.
But with their fast start to the season, along with the growth of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum among others, and Walker’s play, the calculus for the expectations of this team has been modified.
While it’ll be difficult for them to come out of the East and get to the NBA Finals, there’s a brighter flicker of hope at the end of the tunnel of self-doubt that maybe — just maybe — this Celtics team can shock the world and be one of the last teams standing.
In order to do that, they will need Kemba Walker to continue playing at an upper-echelon level as far as impacting the game, a process that becomes more doable if his minutes continue on a load management-like schedule.
Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Clippers, which tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.