The Boston Celtics have found their replacement for Kyrie Irving.
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Kemba Walker has agreed to a four-year, $141 million contract with the franchise. Walker joins the Celtics after six seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, where he became a three-time All-Star and a one-time member of the All-NBA Third Team.
Free agent Kemba Walker has agreed to sign a four-year, $141M maximum contract to join the Boston Celtics, Excel Sports agent Jeff Schwartz tells ESPN.- Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 30, 2019
As disappointing as the 2018-19 season was for the Celtics, they are set up well to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference again next season, this time with Walker running the show.
Walker isn't quite the scorer Irving is, but he's not far off. He's coming off of a season in which he averaged 25.6 points per game, a career-high and the fifth-highest mark among all guards in the league. He did the bulk of that scoring in pick-and-rolls, which is a good sign but also a potentially tricky one when it comes to his fit with the Celtics.
First, the good: Walker is one of the best pick-and-roll scorers in the NBA. He led the league with 11.9 points per game on those plays this season and ranked in the 91st percentile in efficiency with 1.01 points per possession.
While Walker has long been a volume scorer in pick-and-rolls, his development into a legitimate three-level scorer in recent years has made him practically unguardable. Defenders used to go underneath every screen he was involved in, but Walker is now one of the league's best shooters off the dribble. He made the second-most 3-point pull-ups this season, James Harden being the only player in the league to have made more.
Not only is Walker a blur with the ball in his hands, he's one of only a few players who can pull-up on a dime. Listed somewhat generously at 6-foot-1, the combination helps him get his shot off against bigger defenders.
Walker is just as much of a threat to score from midrange or at the basket when defenders fight over screens. He made close to half of his 2-point pull-ups this season and he's a better finisher than you'd think for a player his size - although it remains to be seen how effective that part of his game continues to be as he enters his 30s.
Put it all together, and Walker has an answer to everything teams can throw at him in pick-and-rolls.
Now, the tricky part: Boston ranked in the bottom half of the league in pick-and-roll scoring this season. Head coach Brad Stevens prefers to run a free-flowing offence, not one where the ball sticks in the hands of the team's best player.
Walker, however, didn't have much help on the Hornets. Jeremy Lamb was their second-leading scorer on the season with 15.1 points per game, followed by Marvin Williams (10.1) and Cody Zeller (10.1). With Lamb being the only playmaker of the three, Walker was left carrying a much bigger load than he ideally would, resulting in one of the highest usage rates in the league.
In joining the Celtics, Walker likely knows he won't have the ball in his hands nearly as much as he did with the Hornets.
Walker's ability to play off-ball should also ease his fit alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, as well as Gordon Hayward, who is expected to take on more of the playmaking burden in wake of Irving's departure. According to NBA.com, Walker made 41.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s over the last four seasons, doing so on a decent sample size.
Walker isn't simply a spot-up shooter, either. He's a dynamic scorer off of screens, knowing how to use his speed and shiftiness to get open.
There are some similarities between Walker and Isaiah Thomas in that regard. Thomas is another undersized guard who thrived under Stevens during his time in Boston, his best season being 2016-17, when he averaged a career-high 28.9 points per game and earned a spot on the All-NBA Second Team.
Stevens will likely use Walker in a similar way as Thomas, running him off of more screens than he did in Charlotte and involving him in more handoffs to get everyone else involved.
Playing on a much deeper team should allow Walker to be more selective with his shots, to the point where it could make him a much more efficient scorer than he was last season when he shot 43.4 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from deep. Even if he's the No. 1 scoring option on the team next season, there's a blueprint in place for him to take more of a backseat by the end of his four-year contract as long as Tatum and Brown continue to trend upwards.
Beyond the on-court fit, Walker should be a welcomed addition to Boston's locker room. Much has been made of the chemistry issues the Celtics dealt with this season, with Irving getting some but certainly not all of the blame.
Walker has always been a well-respected teammate and should fit in well with Boston's culture in the same ways that Thomas did.
The next order of business for the Celtics is to figure out who will start at centre for them next season if Al Horford does indeed leave. He'd be the perfect centre to pair with Walker because of his passing and shooting ability, so the Celtics can only hope he'll have a change of heart and decide to re-sign.
Players can negotiate agreements with teams on Sunday, June 30 at 6:00 p.m. ET but contracts can't be officially signed until the new league year begins on July 6.
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