From Kyrie Irving to Kemba Walker: What’s the difference?

Nick Friar
June 28, 2019 - 6:15 am

By signing Kemba Walker, the Celtics will get the star they need to remain competitive in the Eastern Conference. But the first thing I hear when it comes to Walker is, “Well, he’s not Kyrie Irving.”

Absolutely. But that’s not entirely a bad thing. And — now this could just be me — didn’t most people not want Irving anymore? Personally, if he wanted at least two guaranteed years (no one-and-one nonsense) I would’ve said it was the right move for the C’s. So, as much as some of the things Irving said were suspect, I thought the good would outweigh the bad — especially since Irving returning would likely lead to Terry Rozier leaving.

I’ve already addressed the matter of shot distribution with Walker expected to sign with Boston and four prominent shot-takers from last season’s team leaving. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of Irving and Walker:



Irving has the advantage here. He’s a better ball handler. He’s a better shooter. It’s why he made All-NBA Second Team last year and Walker was Third Team.

Statistically, Walker only beat out Irving in points (25.6 v. 23.8) and free-throw attempts (5.5 v. 3.7) per game last year. But Irving was still more efficient from the floor, behind the arc and at the free-throw line. Irving is a top-five offensive point guard in the league. Walker is in the next tier.



Walker is better in this category. Now, someone being better than Irving on defense isn’t saying much. And yes, Irving had more steals per game (1.5 v. 1.2) last year and somehow received a vote for NBA All-Defensive Second Team. But entering last year, they’d averaged the same number of steals per game (1.3) and almost the same number of rebounds per game (3.7 v. 3.4, advantage Kemba) throughout their careers.

Irving also had better defensive rating (107.1 v. 111.8) in 2018-19, but the Hornets also ranked 23rd throughout the NBA in team defensive rating (112) last season. The Celtics were sixth (107). The point with the team defensive numbers is Irving had the advantage of playing with Al Horford, Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know teams were trying to expose Irving on the pick and roll in the postseason. Sometimes he sniffed it out, but more often than not he struggled.

Walker may be two inches shorter, but, like Irving, he also has a 6-foot-4 wingspan. Furthermore, Walker’s quickness on that end of the floor is what separates him from Irving.

This isn’t a way of saying Walker’s going to be an elite defender for Boston. But he should at least be a noticeable upgrade from Irving.



Believe it or not, Walker has had two knee surgeries. The first one came in May of 2016 to address a torn meniscus in his left knee. Then he had a “minor arthroscopic procedure” in the same knee a year later.

As Boston fans likely know, Irving has had two knee surgeries, as well. He, of course, had his second toward the end of 2017-18 to remove the two screws “implanted in his patella” that had been inserted to help heal his left kneecap, which he fractured in 2015.

Now, I’m no doctor, but I don’t think one is like the other. And it’s pretty easy to tell who’s had an easier time adjusting: look at their games played.

Walker had surgery in 2016 after playing 81 games in 2015-16, then came back to play 79 in 2016-17. In the season following his second surgery, he played 80 games. And, just for good measure, Walker played all 82 last year.

(Something about these numbers makes it seem like Walker won’t be asking for too many load management nights.)

Irving came back late-December after his injury in 2015 and only sat out five games the rest of the way. He then played 72 in his last year with Cleveland, then sat out seven of the 67 games he could have played before needing those screwed removed in his first year with the C’s. Then Irving only played in 67 games last year.



Reports have flown around about Irving, and fans have gotten a taste for what he’s like in front of the camera. Then there’s the whole “If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here,” followed by “I don’t owe anybody (expletive).” People chose to analyze him based on what they’ve seen. And the fact the Celtics are already moving on without him, before free agency officially starts, shows they’re not playing games anymore.

When it comes to Walker, he’s been in Charlotte since his career at UConn wrapped up in 2010-11. Seeing him a couple times a year makes it hard to know what he’s about. Though, the fact there hasn’t been drama surrounding him can’t be a bad thing.

The one thing that’s odd is Walker had said he would take a discount to stay in Charlotte so they could build around him. According to Stephen A. Smith, the Hornets did offer him less than the max he could have made, though still more over five years than the Celtics are reportedly offering him in four:

After talking with a source who’s seen Walker develop from right before college and beyond, it's clear the eight-year NBA vet has had to outwork everyone to get to where he is. In the end, the source summed up Walker as being “like a blue collar worker.”