We need to have a legitimate conversation about Cardiac Kemba

Boston’s Kemba Walker tries to get off a shot against Patrick Williams Bulls at the United Center on May 07, 2021.
Image: Getty Images

What is Kemba Walker now?

I ask this honestly, not as a way to bash Kemba Walker or anything, but I’m genuinely interested in what he has become as a basketball player.

Is he still that explosive piece, that solid second scoring option to complement a superstar, or have his knee issues left him just an above-average role player in the league today?

In Game 1 of the Celtics’ first-round series versus Brooklyn, Walker shot 5-16 and contributed 15 points for Brad Stevens’ squad. And it was clear to everyone watching that Walker struggled at times to create the same separation that made him a star a few years ago.

While one game doesn’t tell the whole story about Walker, it does remind us: this isn’t the first time he’s basically gone MIA for the Celtics.

Last year in the bubble playoffs, he went super cold — 6-19 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Miami, and 4-11 in a crucial Game 5 later that series. To be fair, he ended up averaging 19.7 points that series on 43 percent shooting. But, honestly, is that good enough for someone who was considered the Celtics’ No. 2 scoring threat just a couple of years ago?

Luckily for Boston, Jaylen Brown took over that mantle this season, at least before he got hurt. Brown had averaged 24.7 points a night before a wrist injury sidelined him earlier this month.

In contrast, Walker this season is only averaging 19.3 points a night on 42 percent shooting. I say “only” like those are bad stats, but they’re not bad — they’re just not satisfactory for a player of Walker’s caliber. And yes, I understand he’s missed nearly 30 games this year due to injury, but the point still remains.

Are the expectations for Walker too high at this point in his career? Forget his skill, can his body hold up to the responsibility of being a main guy for the Celtics?

Nineteen a night on just over 40 percent shooting isn’t going to be good enough to be the only legitimate scoring support on a championship squad. Not when the competition is boasting players like James Harden and Kyrie Irving as second and third options.

I don’t know which way this could swing. If Walker gets healthy next season, he might be able to become that guy that Boston thought they were getting a few seasons ago, or he will never fully recover but still serve as a skilled role player.

If Walker can’t make a full recovery, though, there might need to be a legitimate conversation about where he can fit in for a championship contender.

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