Trying To Make Sense Of Kemba Walker's Playoff Struggles

Jesse D. Garrabrant. Getty Images.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that Kemba Walker is in a big time slump right now. Ever since the 0.5 second disaster he just hasn't been the same offensively. In the 5 games since Kemba is currently putting up 35/14% splits while putting up the third most FGA on the team. It's been real bad.

The whole thing is so bizarre when you really think about it. We've certainly seen our star score first point guards struggle in the playoffs before. Isaiah shot 40/30% in his 25 career postseason games as a Celtic. He had two seasons shooting under 30% from three. The thing with those numbers is a lot of that had to do with him being the only offensive option and defenses could key in on him. Then there was Kyrie Irving, who shot just 38/31% in his 9 career playoff games in Boston. By far his worst production in his career. The rage fans felt towards him had more to do with the fact that Kyrie clearly quit against the Bucks.

With Kemba, it's a little different so I wanted to dig a little deeper and see where Kemba is struggling. This isn't a situation where Kemba has flat out disappeared in the playoffs. He has made huge play after huge play late in games in all three series so far. There was his massive jumper against Horford in Game 3

That was his first big Celtics playoff moment in my opinion. Then against the Raptors in Game 2, he came through again in a huge spot

In Game 3, he had what should have been the game winning pass, one of the sickest looks we've seen this entire postseason

Then in Game 1 in the ECF, he had two huge late jumpers. First it was the jumper to put them up 5 with 69 seconds left, then he had this one in OT

That's what makes his current struggles so weird. The one thing we always wanted from our star point guard was to be able to rely on them in big playoff moments. Kemba has delivered numerous times in that regard. So why does it feel like he's been a problem? 

If you look deeper at the different zones on the floor over the last two weeks, it does help paint the picture. 

Restricted area: 50%

Midrange: 60%

Above the break three: 12.9%

Kemba is taking his most FGA over this span from above the break. As we've seen, when he gets into the midrange, he's fine. So then I wanted to see if maybe Kemba is taking a majority of these threes in tight coverage. Here's how that breaks down

Tight coverage: 2.4 3PA / 16.7%

Open coverage: 3.0 3PA / 13.3%

Wide Open coverage: 1.0 3PA / 20%

So as you can see, the majority of Kemba's looks from three have either been open or wide open, he just hasn't hit shit. When it comes to clutch time FG%, Kemba is shooting 61.5% from the floor this postseason and 50% since Game 4 against TOR. I'm not sure you could ask for anything better than that. 

That's why I don't think this is an injury thing either. He's getting by guys in big moments and getting great lift on his jumper. He did a good job of attacking the rim in Game 1 as well. This is what makes his struggles so different from what we saw with Isaiah and Kyrie. Kemba is coming through in big moments, like you would expect your max player to do. 

Is it a Brad thing? A system thing? It does make you wonder since this is now the third point guard to have these type of postseason struggles. It's clear that Kemba is pressing a little bit to start games, but no matter how many times he misses I will always trust him in a big moment. That's weird for my brain to comprehend, especially when he can't even hit open threes. That's what makes his current struggles so different from what we've seen previously. I didn't trust Kyrie to come through against the Bucks despite his struggles, yet with Kemba he's shown me he can.

If not for the defensive lapses in Game 3 vs TOR and Game 1 vs MIA, would we view Kemba differently right now? He would have been responsible for both game winning plays. I can't ever really remember a time where someone can look so bad for 99.9% of the game and be absolute nails in the final seconds. I think that's what gives me confidence that Kemba can snap out of this funk. The second he makes an open three I feel like the floodgates will open. 

At least I hope. If not, the Celts are in a world of trouble.