SAN FRANCISCO — When Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart played for the United States at the FIBA World Cup this past summer, it put Celtics coach Brad Stevens in a slightly unusual position.
Stevens was watching the games closely and was eager to see how his players had developed, and how the three returning players would mesh with Walker. And Stevens is, at his core, a coach, so there were times he wanted to offer instruction or advice. But he also did not want to overstep his bounds, because in the World Cup the four Celtics were being guided by an extremely capable group of coaches.
The good thing for Stevens, however, was that he had a man on the inside. Stevens and Warriors coach Steve Kerr, a Team USA assistant, have become close friends over the years. So Stevens mostly bugged him instead.
The two went out to dinner in Las Vegas after the team completed its minicamp there prior to the tournament. And when the squad traveled to Australia and then China, Stevens and Kerr communicated often.
“I texted him during the tournament quite a bit, because obviously I didn’t want to bother our guys while they were being coached by somebody else,” Stevens said. “I think you can be a distraction if you’re talking shop with your guys, so I just wanted to know if there’s anything he wanted us to do from afar.”
Stevens values Kerr’s opinion, and he could tell from their communications how highly the Warriors coach thought of Boston’s quartet. And on Friday night, Kerr said that Boston’s scorching and mostly unexpected 10-1 record this season is no real surprise to him.
“You could tell [Team USA] was a head start for them,” Kerr said. “You could tell over the summer that those guys would click, and they absolutely have. They’ve gotten off to a great start.”
The addition of Walker, a three-time All-Star, was the biggest change for the Celtics. But the transition has mostly been seamless, with Walker averaging 24.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game, and with the Celtics claiming the best record in the NBA.
And the chemistry has been evident. When Tatum hit a shot at the buzzer to beat the Knicks, Walker was ecstatic about the win and not concerned that the shot had not come from him. After Friday’s victory over Golden State, the Celtics’ 10th in a row, Walker was all but glowing as he stood in the visitors’ locker room and said he had never had an NBA winning streak like this one, and that he just loved how it felt.
Kerr, for one, had a sense this past summer that Walker’s fit with the Celtics would be just right.
“I’ve always admired his game, but it was fun to get to know him,” Kerr said. “I had no doubt while I was coaching him this summer that he’d be great for the Celtics given not only his ability on the court but the chemistry he generates with a group. Everybody loves playing with him, he moves the ball, he plays hard, and he’s fun to be around.”
When looking at the rest of Boston’s World Cup crew, Kerr realized how dangerous the Celtics could be with such a versatile group, particularly once Gordon Hayward was added to it. Kerr said that over the first month of the season, the Celtics are probably switching on screens more frequently than any other team in the NBA.
“Marcus Smart’s a guy that can play three different positions,” Kerr said. “You can say the same thing for Jaylen, and Jayson. Those two guys can play the 2, 3, or 4. And you look at the way they’re playing now, it’s really interchangeable parts all over the board.”
Walker reiterated Friday that it was helpful to get to know his new teammates during the tournament, not only to build chemistry, but to make sure they realized how hard he plays, and how badly he wants to win.
“I think that kind of let them know,” he said, “I’m just giving my all.”