load management

Load management works for Kawhi Leonard, so what about Celtics' Kemba Walker?

Load management works for Kawhi Leonard, so what about Celtics' Kemba Walker?

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. 

C's Director of Player Development Allison Feaster joins The MichaeI Holley Podcast:

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.  

 

NBA Notebook: Here's the driving force behind Celtics' early success

NBA Notebook: Here's the driving force behind Celtics' early success

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Spurs, which tips off  Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

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The more you watch the Celtics play, the more they seem driven to prove themselves to be better than most fans might think. 

A big part of them playing with a heightened level of drive is their ability to do just that - drive the ball. 

Boston went into its 108-87 victory in Charlotte ranked among the league leaders in drives per game. 

Per Second Spectrum Data, the Celtics average 52.3 drives per game, which ranks fifth in the NBA this season. 

And it has very much been a team effort. 

Going into the Charlotte game, the Celtics have four players averaging at least 10 drive attempts per game - Gordon Hayward (13.8); Kemba Walker (12.8); Jayson Tatum (10.8) and Jaylen Brown (10.8). 

Last season, Boston’s lone player averaging 10 or more drive attempts? 

That would be Kyrie Irving who averaged 11.4 drives per game. 

Just to put into perspective how unusual that is for the Celtics, consider this:

Dating back to the 2013-14 season, Boston has finished the season no better than 16th when it comes to drives per game. 

And the most drives they averaged in that span was 38.4 last season, which ranked 27th in the NBA. 

Going back to training camp, it became clear that driving the ball would have to be something the Celtics did a lot of this season. 

“We have a lot of guys who can get to the rim on their own, for sure,” Marcus Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “We’re not the biggest team so for us, we gotta find ways to score on the run.”

And they’re doing it as a team, with multiple players finding their way into the lane to generate easy points. 

Boston is averaging 28.5 points per game via drives, which ranks fifth in the NBA. Only once in the previous six seasons has Boston finished in the top 10 in points scored via drives (19.9 points, 2015-16 season).

CLIPPERS FINED $50K FOR LOAD MANAGEMENT KERFUFFLE

The NBA news cycle never sleeps. 

Not long after the league announced that the Los Angeles Clippers and their “load management” schedule for Kawhi Leonard was good to go, they did a quick about-face - based on comments by ex-Celtics coach and current Clippers coach Doc Rivers - and fined the team $50,000 because of conflicting accounts of Leonard’s status made by Rivers. 

The issue is two-fold:

You have teams such as the Clippers trying their best to have their best players ready to roll and at full strength for the playoffs. 

And you have folks in the league office who are concerned about the impact of having marquee players pull out of marquee matchups, as Leonard did when the Clippers took on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, who emerged with a five-point win on Wednesday night. 

While teams such be allowed to play anyone on their roster as they see fit, both sides have to figure out a better way to make this “load management” concept work. 

Because whether players want to believe it or not, fans remain the lifeline for the NBA. And the NBA has every reason to be concerned that too many last-minute DNP’s by marquee players could eventually impact the financial bottom line and that is something no one - players, ownership or fans - wants to see. 

SIAKAM HAS RAPTORS’ COACH IN FOUL MOOD

Pascal Siakam has emerged as one of the better scorers in the NBA this season, delivering superstar-like production.

But his coach Nick Nurse has been in a foul mood a good chunk of the season because his star player has spent way too much time in foul trouble. 

And unlike some coaches who tend to blame officials, Nurse isn’t having that. 

He’s putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of Siakam. 

"He hasn’t been very smart, if you want me to be honest with you. Most of those have been fouls," Nurse told reporters recently.   "And they’re touch fouls that they’re not calling on everybody, and they’re not calling every trip up and down. But if you go back — by the letter of the law, [officials] say, ‘Hey, he’s got two hands on him.’ So, he’s got to take the two hands off him."

WIGGINS’ EMERGENCE FOR THE T-WOLVES

Karl-Anthony Towns has been getting lots of love for his play, which has been a huge part of the Minnesota Timberpups’ strong start to the season. Lost in their success has been the play of Andrew Wiggins. He’s averaging 22.4 points and 4.7 rebounds along with 2.3 assists. 

A big part of his improvement has been cutting down the number of mid-range and long 2-point shots he has taken in past seasons. 

With injuries to Minnesota at point guard, Wiggins has also been called upon to handle more of the team’s playmaking. 

“He’s very talented,” center Towns told reporters recently. “I don’t think it’s going to be a shock to anyone. If it is, he’s just proven himself in this league and he keeps playing well.”

KEMBA’S TRIUMPHANT RETURN

Even with all he did for the Charlotte Hornets, Kemba Walker's overwhelming reception he received upon his first trip back as a visiting player is extremely rare. 

However, those who know him best weren’t surprised at all. 

Elizabeth and Michael Peeler are Hornets season-ticket holders who developed a relationship with Kemba Walker in his rookie season.

The Peelers and Walkers have grown close through the years, with the couple having Walker over once a year for dinner during the season and presenting him with brownies prior to every home game when he was in Charlotte. 

Listening to them and others close to Walker, there was no denying his return to Charlotte was more like a reunion than a revenge game. 

“I don’t think I know anybody here blames Kemba for leaving,” Michael Peeler told NBC Sports Boston. “They understand the situation; the money here wasn’t quite right plus he has a chance to go to a team that’s pretty much penciled in to go to the playoffs every year.”

Walker signed a four-year, $141 million deal with the Celtics and has been a key cog in a 6-1 start that has them atop the Eastern Conference standings. 


    
THE ‘OTHER’ STAR FOR THE LAKERS

LeBron James and Anthony Davis are frontrunners in this still-young NBA season for the league’s MVP award. But if you’re looking at standout performers on this Lakers roster exceeding expectations, look no further than Dwight Howard. 

The eight-time All-Star is putting up the kind of numbers off the bench that, while they won’t blow you away, are good enough to provide a glimpse of his impact on the Lakers’ success. 

He’s averaging 21.7 minutes per game this season, averaging 6.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game, which showcases his ability to put his imprint on games at both ends of the floor. 

FAST BREAK

Kyrie Irving set a Brooklyn Nets record with 222 points in the first seven games. … For those who bought into LeBron being on a precipitous decline for the Lakers, the dude reeled off three consecutive triple-doubles to become the first Laker to do so since Magic Johnson in 1987. … Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams is emerging as an early frontrunner for Coach of the Year…Keep an eye on Chris Paul and the Oklahoma City Thunder parting ways before the trade deadline, with the Dallas Mavericks reportedly among the teams interested in the veteran guard to pair with Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic...Jose Calderon has retired and immediately has taken a job with the NBA Players Association as a special assistant...The Atlanta Hawks' John Collins became the third player this season suspended for 25 games in violation of the NBA’s anti-drug policy. Collins tested positive for a Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide-2, according to the league office. “I plan to appeal my suspension in arbitration so I can get back on the court as soon as possible and continue to contribute to our 2019-20 campaign," Collins said in a statement to ESPN. 

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