- Kemba Walker can change everything this year, with opportunities to shine as a member of USA Basketball and the Boston Celtics. Walker has a chance to lead reworked rosters at the FIBA World Cup and in the NBA.
When Team USA starts play in the World Cup on Sept. 1, Kemba Walker will be one of only three All-Stars on the roster.
And when Walker opens the NBA regular season with his new Celtics teammates in Philadelphia, he’ll be one of only two All-Stars on their roster.
If either team is to make a run, it will be heavily dependant on what Walker does. And for Walker, this will provide a chance to elevate in status as he begins his basketball life after Charlotte.
After eight seasons and two playoff appearances with the Bobcats and Hornets, Walker is finally in a situation where the postseason is an expectation and he is more likely to be in the national spotlight on a nightly basis. And luckily for Kemba, it happens to coincide with a year in which he can first boost his popularity and profile among average fans through an international competition.
In past years, Kevin Durant and James Harden and Kyrie Irving have used this same exact international competition to transcend into the next phase of their superstardom. Being some of the top players on Team USA translated over to their future NBA seasons and each has shown growth since dominating on the FIBA stage.
Now Walker finds himself in a similar opportunity with a Team USA roster most fans wouldn’t recognize.
If anybody can get the most out of this roster and mine for the perfect lineups that properly fit all these unexpected pieces together, it’s Gregg Popovich. But if anybody is going to take over games when the team needs to be carried to victory late, it will likely be Walker.
Unlike Durant, Harden and Irving, Walker is not a budding young star waiting to complete his transition into a household name. Walker is a bit longer in the tooth. But even though he is a three-time All-Star, spending the start of his career in Charlotte has made it so many know him more for his exploits at UConn than in The Association.
But that can all change this year.
Along with Walker, it looks like three other Celtics will also be on Team USA. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart all appear likely to be joining Walker in China, and that is great news for all four players, but particularly Walker.
Much has been made of Irving’s departing from Boston and Walker coming in as his replacement and what that could potentially mean for team chemistry. Although Irving’s locker room presence likely played a role in the friction that plagued that Celtics all last season, his on-court approach probably also played a big part.
Walker is comparable to Irving as he can consistently create his own shot and get buckets at will, but he isn’t necessarily the point guard you’d want to spread the ball around and make sure everybody in the offense is getting involved and getting touches. Walker has only one season with a least six assists per game and he has yet to hit that mark in any of the seasons he’s averaged at least 20 points per contest.
Playing under Popovich might help in unlocking a more pass-happy version of Kemba, but more importantly, Brown and Tatum have an entire summer to work with him and figure out how to play off him and vise versa.
How well those three mesh and how well they blend Gordon Hayward into the mix will be the difference in Boston competing for the Eastern Conference title again or going home in mid-May.
Similarly, Team USA will need this hodge-podge group to fit together on the court. Playing next to Tatum, Brown and Donovan Mitchell during September before hitting training camp should be a good precursor for what Walker will have to do in Brad Stevens’s offense when Mitchell is swapped out for Hayward.
Both situations will be reliant on the coaches finding the right system, and the high-usage Walker adjusting to his teammates.
Walker has been the top dog or close to it on every team he’s played on since his freshman year of college. However, he’s never played with as much talent as he’ll have with him in China for the World Cup or in Boston with the Celtics.
Even though the Team USA roster looks depleted compared to most other years and most would agree Boston’s overall talent has declined since last season, it’s still more than what Walker had to work with in Charlotte. He’ll need to be the man on both squads, but he’ll also need to do a better job playing off his teammates and making them better than he has in previous years. And while the increased talent should make his job easier, he’ll still need to do some work himself and get used to having a little less control than he has had in the past three years.
For the first time in a while, there will be real intrigue surrounding Kemba Walker. And for better or for worse, he’ll have two cracks at showing just how far he can take a team at this point in his career.