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NBA Daily: Down But Not Out, Kemba Walker Must Seize His Moment

Shane Rhodes breaks down what Kemba Walker can do to help the Celtics rebound from back-to-back losses to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Shane Rhodes

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It’s been a long and winding road back into the spotlight for Kemba Walker.

In 2011 with the University of Connecticut, Walker set the world on fire as he led the Huskies on an improbable run: an 11-game stretch that culminated in a Big East title and a National Championship. Dubbed “Cardiac Kemba,” he played his best when it mattered most — and was expected to do the same in short order at the NBA level.

Of course, things don’t always go as expected. Walker was drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats, now the Hornets, and, in eight seasons of futile basketball, made the postseason just twice, his efforts constantly thwarted by the poorly constructed roster around him.

But now, nearly a decade later and with a new team, Walker is once again set to take center stage in his first extended postseason trip.

And, to advance, the Boston Celtics need him to truly seize the moment and recapture some of that magic.

To his credit, Walker has had a strong postseason already — but it has become evident that the Celtics need more from him if they are to advance. In their first round sweep of the Philadelphia 76ers, Walker averaged 24.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and was remarkable in the clutch. In their first two against the Toronto Raptors, it was more of the same: a Game 1 blowout, with a shot from Walker to slam the door on Game 2.

However, Game 3 ended in arguably the most demoralizing way possible. Game 4, meanwhile, was just plain ugly for everyone, Walker included.

Boston is now faced with a best-of-three set against the defending champion Raptors, with a pivotal, must-win Game 5 on the horizon. Luckily for the Celtics, the key to victory isn’t some critique buried in the game film or lost in Toronto’s smothering defense.

In fact, it’s staring right at them; this may be Jayson Tatum’s team — and he has certainly led the way this postseason — but it’ll be up to Walker to push the team beyond Toronto and across the series’ finish line.

But what could Walker do to turn the tide? It’s simple: hunt for his shot and assert himself in Boston’s offense.

Walker can’t be faulted for deferring to Tatum when they share the floor. Who could? The third-year wing has proven himself a bonafide star, one certainly worthy of deferring to in most instances. That said, it’s hard to argue against the fact that, when Walker is getting his shot off, the Celtics are just a better team.

In the 26 games this season (regular and post) in which Walker either didn’t play or had fewer than 10 field goal attempts, the Celtics sat at a positive but uninspiring 16-10.

But when he took 10 or more shots? That 16-10 record skyrocketed to 40-16, good for a nearly 60-win pace over a regular 82 game schedule.

The presence of an aggressive Walker should benefit everyone, not just his own personal box score. Walker can leverage his shot to keep defenses honest against Tatum, who has been consistently doubled by Raptor defenders, and open up more space for Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward (upon his return from an ankle injury suffered against the 76ers) and others to make plays off the ball. Unless the goal is to watch the offense nosedive on a regular basis, it is imperative that Walker, as the only player outside of Tatum that can generate his own shot on a consistent basis, stays aggressive during those periods when Tatum is on the bench. Doubly so when Brown and or Hayward join him on the sideline.

For those that haven’t been paying attention, none of that is what happened in Game 4. In what was, by far, Boston’s worst game of the postseason, Walker launched just nine shots in over 40 minutes, a fact he deemed “unacceptable” before he vowed to be more aggressive going forward.

Of course, Walker can take that mentality and apply it to the other side of the ball, too.

Marcus Smart is the team’s defensive poster child. But Walker has proven an invaluable, if not unheralded, defender in his own right. Despite his 6-foot stature, the diminutive point guard has lightning-quick hands and has shown a willingness to take a charge — Walker was seventh (18) in the regular season in charges draw, while he is fourth (4) so far this postseason — or dive onto the floor for the loose ball.

Walker is willing to put his body on the line if it puts the Celtics in the best position to win the game — that type of effort, that resilience is contagious. And if he can continue to put forth an impressive effort on that end, it might just give Boston an advantage in what should prove a chippy final three games to the series.

Had Hayward not severely sprained his ankle in the first round, we would be looking at a much different series between Boston and Toronto — the onus of their success at this critical juncture certainly wouldn’t have fallen solely on Walker’s shoulders.

But Hayward isn’t here, while Tatum and Brown can only do so much on their own. For now, it is up to Walker to be that difference-maker that the Celtics so desperately need — and this series may just prove his defining moment. If he can reach out and grab it, “Cardiac Kemba” could push the Celtics to a whole new level.

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Legacy

Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders

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From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding new voices for the 2020-21 NBA Season, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

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And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful.

Please send all of this to: openings2021@basketballinsiders.com

 

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#17 – Aleksej Pokusevski – Oklahoma City Thunder

David Yapkowitz

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With the 17th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select Aleksej Pokusevski from Serbia. The Thunder completed a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire the pick.

Pokusevski is a long term project, but one that has has an intriguing skillset. A 7-footer with good speed and quickness, Pokusevski plays like a wing and can pass like a guard. But, to truly thrive at the next level, Pokusevski will need to put on some serious weight.

Again, he’s a project. But Pokusevski’s ceiling is sky-high. And, with a rebuild ahead of them, the Thunder have more than enough time to work with him and ensure he reaches it.

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Mock Drafts

2020 NBA Mock Draft – The Final 60-Pick Mock

What a long and winding road the 20201 NBA Draft has been. While this draft cycle has seen its ups and down, the moment of truth if finally upon us.

Steve Kyler

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What a long and winding road the 20201 NBA Draft has been. While this draft cycle has seen its ups and down, the moment of truth if finally upon us.

Here is a final look at the 2020 Draft, and how it may play out in this final 60-pick Mock Draft of the 20202 NBA Draft process:

 

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