Video Breakdown: Kemba Walker and the nuanced art of setting up teammates

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Basketball is about getting buckets, and the bucket-getting is a lot easier without all those pesky defenders in your way. And since, generally speaking, they don't just get of the way out of the kindness of their hearts, it's up to ball movement and passing to clear them out of the way.

The Boston Celtics have not been a particularly great passing team. They are 28th in assists per game. They're the worst team in the NBA in secondary assists, or passes that lead to assists. They are in the bottom third of the league in total passes made.

That might change a little bit as Kemba Walker finds his game. Walker is, first and foremost, a scorer. He uses his skills to create open opportunities for himself. He is also, however, a point guard, and part of his job is to set up his teammates. Because he's no Luka Doncic or even a Rajon Rondo, Walker uses the gravity he creates as a scorer to create assist opportunities.

There is nuance to getting guys open. There are reads involved that dictate what decisions need to be made and when. Three plays last night highlight the quick decisions between shots and passes, and how defenses can be manipulated to make things easier for the guy catching the pass:

• Early in the game, Walker floated a hook-shot alley oop to Robert Williams. Walker got himself into the paint, collapsed the defense, read Alex Len's movements, and made the play.

The first thing Walker sees when he turns the corner is a bunch of green paint. Len is playing a drop coverage. Payton Pritchard's cut is designed to clear Bradley Beal out of the space the Celtics want to be.

Paint touches are critical. The ball in the paint demands attention. This is why people like me scream about it so often. Getting the ball into the paint creates good things on offense.

Watch the play over again and you'll see Kemba quickly turn to make sure Williams is rolling. The entirety of Walker getting the ball to him passing the ball takes about two seconds, but his brain is doing calculus.

  • I'm getting into the paint
  • Rob is rolling
  • Len is facing me
  • No one is behind Len

There's one more thing left for Walker to do here to determine if he's going to shoot or pass, and that's actually touch the paint.

All five Wizards are now looking at Walker. The instant Len slides over, the final calculation is made in Walker's brain.


With no one behind Len, it's impossible now for anyone to get to the lob.

Had Len turned his body towards Williams, Walker would have pulled up for the jumper because no one would have contested. In fact, Raul Neto is trailing him pretty hard, so Walker would have stopped, jumped into Neto a bit, and tried for the and-1.

The nuance here is taking the extra step to absolutely prevent Len from getting back and challenging the lob and also giving himself a scoring option should the pass not present itself.

• Walker and Daniel Theis connected on an important stretch of baskets in the fourth quarter. This is is the first of them.

First thing's first, Walker had to