Kemba Walker’s 2-point field goal struggles have become a real issue. He’s shooting a career-worst 35.7 percent from that range and has connected on just 1 of his last 20 attempts inside the arc. Last season, he made 47.6 percent of his twos.
The biggest issue is that Walker is having difficulty simply getting his shots off. This season, 21 of his 164 attempts (12.8 percent) have been blocked. That is a substantial increase from last season, when 7.2 percent of his tries were swatted away.
Also, Walker is attempting a career-low 5.3 free throws per 100 possessions. He is generously listed at 6 feet, but he has made a career of putting defenders in spin cycles with a lightning-quick first step, an ability to attack at perfect angles, and a knack for finishing above trees or drawing contact from them in the paint. The Celtics are certainly hopeful that vintage Walker will return this season, but for now they should be doing all they can to create space and help him get to that point.
Some other thoughts on the Celtics:
▪ As Saddiq Bey, the 19th overall pick of last November’s draft, poured in all seven of his 3-point attempts to lead the Pistons past the Celtics on Friday, it was impossible not to think about how 14th overall pick Aaron Nesmith — selected as a sharpshooter — remained stuck on the bench for Boston.
But the draft is an inexact science. If it was redone today, 26th pick Payton Pritchard would probably go in the top 10, and Bey would certainly go ahead of Nesmith. But that can’t be changed now. For the Celtics, the greater concern is that Nesmith clearly has not earned the trust of coach Brad Stevens. On Friday night, Boston was without Walker, Robert Williams, and Romeo Langford, and then Semi Ojeleye was sidelined with a leg injury in the second half. That’s four rotation players who are ahead of Nesmith, yet the rookie still did not get an opportunity.
The Celtics were hopeful that they’d add a key rotation player with the 14th pick, and the rash of injuries and COVID-19-related absences made that need even greater. Although if Pritchard was taken 14th and Nesmith was selected 26th, there would not be nearly as much angst now.
▪ The Celtics tend to overstate expected injury-related absences so that if a player goes past his timeline it is not viewed as a setback, and if he returns ahead of the timeline it’s viewed as a rapid recovery. But it certainly sounds as if Marcus Smart’s calf strain will keep him out beyond the 2-3-week window the team initially announced.
On Friday, speaking publicly for the first time since his Jan. 30 injury, Smart said he is still walking with a slight limp and is only able to run at about 30 to 40 percent of his normal speed during light workouts. Calf strains have a high risk of recurrence, too. Smart offered no new details on his potential return, saying only that he was taking it “day by day.”
The Celtics have gone 3-4 since his injury, and the defense ranks just 20th in the NBA over that span. With less than three weeks left until the All-Star break, it would not be shocking if Boston just errs on the side of caution and brings Smart back after that.
▪ The inbox and Twitter feed continue to be filled with pleas from fans hoping that Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will use his $28.5 million traded player exception sooner rather than later, so it’s worth reiterating here that it’s unlikely to happen soon.
On the Celtics’ side, Ainge would surely like at least one extended stretch to evaluate his team when it is at close to full strength. And the bigger issue is that the season is just one-third complete, so if the Celtics are truly seeking to add a difference-maker in a package centered on draft capital, that means another team would probably have to wave the white flag on its season already. And that just doesn’t make sense, especially after the playoff field was expanded.
Lastly, even if the Celtics acquired a key player this coming week rather than closer to the March 26 deadline, that player would realistically add a few wins to the docket over the next month, at most, and that wouldn’t matter much in the big picture. It’s in everyone’s best interest to wait a bit longer.
▪ In other injury news, it was revealed this past week that Jaylen Brown is battling knee tendinitis. He missed two games on the Western Conference trip to rest, and he acknowledged that he experienced pain again in the second half of his first game back, Tuesday’s loss to the Jazz. Given all of those factors, it was surprising to see Brown average 34 minutes in these last two games on back-to-back nights.