Walker is a pick-and-roll maestro. He can score in so many ways: stopping on a dime, shooting for three, jumping his way into an elbow jumper, or sliding downhill, squirming his shoulders by a much taller defender and finishing in the cup. However, to zoom in even more, whenever he has two screens to work with, Boston’s attack reaches another level.
According to Second Spectrum, the only player who had more double picks going for him in the regular season was Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young. Walker averaged 8.75 per game, and in total he ran over 14 all teams.
For the Charlotte Hornets, Walker also found himself using double peaks quite often, but in Boston his volume skyrocketed. Last season, he averaged 8.76 dual screens per 100 possessions. This year it was 13.66, placing Walker in the 93rd percentile (or fourth higher of the 61 players who have used a dual screen at least 100 times). What separates him from the pack is his insane efficiency. Walker averaged 1.15 points per chance (83rd percentile) while squeezing out a lucrative 127.5 points per 100 possessions (85th percentile) for the Celtics.
In other words, when the Boston attack looks like an outhouse, these rooms turn it into a villa; There are few more logical remedies than giving the ball to Walker and having two fellow Celtics put a screen in the middle of the floor. The game gives him countless options, as a pair of skilled teammates position themselves to jump or roll. Walker is nimble, perceptive, and skilled enough at punishing defenses in too many ways for them to curl their arms. These games either hit the other team with a hard-hitting burst of fire or take place slowly until an error or mismatch can be pointed out.
The hope behind setting up two screens at the same time is that it will maximize confusion and give the game a degree of chaos that benefits the attack. When someone as fast as Walker is the initiator, defenders are never on their heels. Trapping him is futile, given that few tall men can contain Walker in space, and falling too low allows him to feast in areas where he is most comfortable.
Watch how Boston’s offense plays out after Brown screened Josh Richardson onto Walker and forced Tobias Harris to switch in the game below. Less than a second later, Enes Kanter pancakes Harris, allowing Walker to skate towards Joel Embiid, who has no interest in leaving painting. With Brown occupying Richardson’s attention and Harris not wanting to leave Kanter alone, Philly has no one around Walker when he rises to his elbow.
Don’t change, and the result is a cleaner version of the same:
Management errors and Easter eggs also develop from this basic training. Notice how Walker starts off on the left before slaloming right down the middle of the field. The Grizzlies cover up and recover in response to Tatum’s first screen, but that was just a decoy. The real action happens when Daniel Theis hovers over to set a screen flair for Brown on the weak side.
And in transition, when the Celtics are able to give Walker a dual drag screen, the threat of his outside shot makes the big men feel like they’re in a no man’s land until he passes them for a lay-up.
Even though Walker’s double-choice opportunities have diminished slightly per 100 possession since the return of the season, he still scored the third-most points in the bubble in double-choice situations. And according to Second Spectrum, its luck points at those places are also up in the 89th percentile.
Going forward, in lineups without Hayward, the Celtics may want to give Walker as many chances as he can physically handle. He managed to face them against his second-round opponent. Toronto, which has allowed the fewest points per possession against a double pick this season. The Celtics scored 1.4 points per possession when they provided Walker with a double pick against the Raptors during the regular season; no player who has had at least 10 openings here has been more effective.
It’s against such athletic and versatile teams that Walker’s unstable grip comes in handy; he might be the best player in the NBA to use a live dribble to lead his man to a screen. As one of his former coaches, Steve Hetzel, told me a few years ago, “A good pick-and-roll defense is when the defender walks into the ball handler to try and undo the split at the screen.
It’s incredibly difficult when he combines such spontaneous live dribbling with two screens and one of the most devastating pull-ups in the league. (According to NBA.com, 76 players have averaged at least four field goal attempts this season, and Walker had a higher effective field goal percentage than all but four.)
Corralling Walker in space is a bit like pushing a drone with a toothpick. Here are a few plays that show why. The former begins with Marcus Smart forcing Kyle Lowry to change, then letting Walker immediately enter a middle pick and roll with Rob Williams.
If you’re brave enough, step into Terence Davis’ shoes. A fraction of a second after switching to Walker, you have to stop him from using Williams’ screen. For a while things seem to be going well… then Walker reaches into his bag and strokes your ankles as Williams flips the screen and creates a wide open free throw line sweater.
Here he is doing a similar job against Pascal Siakam:
We haven’t really seen it this year yet, but the beauty of putting Walker in a double pick with this specific roster is that it allows Boston to directly involve their top three players in a way that puts all of them. to an advantage over their man. Even if it’s just to isolate Tatum or Brown against a smaller defender, or turn them into playmakers looking at a four-on-three edge, this formation creates problems for anyone trying to slow it down.
There’s a popular and perfectly rational account of the Boston Celtics that essentially says their playoff cap height will be set by Tatum and Brown. In many ways, this is true. Neither is over 23, but both already have a flashing green light for being aggressive with the ball and are solid stone guardrails for one of the strongest defenses in the NBA.
Compared to Walker, it is no longer variables but fixed integers that make Boston the title contender. And instead of wondering how far Tatum and Brown will take them, the more pressing issue is Walker’s function. The Celtics have a myriad of weapons at their disposal, even with Hayward out for the next few weeks. But when they want to smash their opponents’ backs, few options are better than putting the ball in Walker’s hands, giving him two high screens, and then sitting down to enjoy the spectacle.
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