The evolution of Kemba Walker: how he’s adjusting to a more complementary role

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

I’m going to show you Kemba Walker’s last three shot charts. See if you can find anything unusual about them. 


Did you see it? 

Since the All-Break, we’ve seen a different Kemba Walker. As the Celtics get whole and build some more continuity, and as the Celtics begin to move the ball better and play off one another, Walker is adjusting his game to fit the flow of the offense. 

Part of that is shown in those shot charts. 

Walker was 2-5 on corner 3-pointers on the road trip. The five corner 3’s that he took equals one-third of the total corner 3’s he’s taken in 36 games this entire season. And of the 15 corner 3’s he’s taken, 12 have come since the All-Star break and 7 have come this month. 

Walker is historically a pick-and-roll ball handler. The Celtics still, obviously, use him in that role quite a bit as his ability to hit pull-up jumpers is a big weapon against drop coverage (when a big man drops back to protect the paint). However, this year, the Celtics have taken to running a lot more pick-and-roll with Jayson Tatum.

NBA Tracking data shows Tatum is being used as the pick-and-roll ballhandler 29.6% of the time this season, a 4% increase from last season and nearly double the frequency from two years ago. Add to that an increase of 2.3% for Jaylen Brown from last season, and a similar bump from Marcus Smart, and Walker is starting to see a little drop in how often he's running that play at the top of the key.

It's a minor drop, but it's happening. He's dropped from 9.8 to 9.2 possessions per game as the pick-and-roll ball handler, and his number possessions as a spot up shooter have gone up from 2 to 2.8. It's a trend that has been more noticeable recently as the Celtics get more used to playing with each other.

"It sure helps when we have more bodies healthy. I don’t think it’s brain surgery," Brad Stevens said after the win in Portland. "I think we’ve got guys that have now played a little bit together, getting in a rhythm together. We mentioned the tweaks in shot profile, the tweaks in offense, but it’s more about the mindset of getting downhill and trying to make the next right play whether for yourself or your teammate ... when Smart, Jaylen, Jayson and Kemba are all out there, you know, of course we’re going to look a little different.”

Here's an example from last night.