By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Kemba Walker comes to Boston with some big shoes to fill. He’s expected to fill the offensive void left by Kyrie Irving’s departure, as well as the leadership role that Iriving was never able to grasp.
But filling that offensive void doesn’t necessarily mean Walker is going to command that he takes every big shot in every big moment. In fact, Walker is actually looking to do more for the Celtics by doing less.
“It takes a lot of pressure off me,” Walker told reporters after Monday’s practice, courtesy of MassLive’s John Karalis. “I’m getting a lot of different shots as well, but I’m loving it, not having not do so much all the time. Hopefully my usage rate might be going down a little bit. It allows other guys to make plays and I can appreciate that for sure.”
You may be giving pause at the moment, remembering that Boston just gave Kemba a max contract to be “the guy.” But there are different ways to be “the guy” and help lead the team to success. Walker just spent eight years in Charlotte being “the guy,” but was never surrounded by the talent he now finds himself playing with in Boston. He’s ready to take advantage of having Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward on the floor with him, even if it means sacrificing some of his personal stats.
Walker took a career-high 20.5 shots per game last year. His usage rate — the percentage of team plays used by a player while on the floor — was at 31.5 percent, which was the ninth-highest in the NBA last year. That percentage ranked him higher than Irving, Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook, all of whom love to have the ball in their hands.
Walker will still have the ball in his hands, and he’ll still be expected to quarterback the offense while also hitting some key shots. But he’s willing to take a few less shots every game and let the offense run through someone else, keeping opposing defenses honest every night. His teammates seem more than happy about picking up the slack.
“We just have so much talent around us,” said Walker. “And just not having to do so much; I’ve done a lot over the course of my career.”
Boston’s new leader also praised the camaraderie among his new teammates. While they’ve only played three preseason games with each other, it’s apparent that this team likes each other, something that could not be said for last year’s squad.
“We get along together very well, and I think that’s really important,” said Walker. “We’re working hard each and every day. We’re not having any bad practices, which I think is really important.
“It’s going to take some time for us to keep getting better with each other, but first thing’s first is that we like each other,” he continued. “I think that’s really important for us.”
Walker will turn 30 next May, and after eight years of being tasked to do everything in Charlotte, reducing his usage will help keep him fresh — both for the stretch run this season and in future seasons — in Boston. He’s truly a unique star player, one that is willing to be the occasional passenger if it helps Boston’s other stars shine.