Despite losing two key contributors, Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, in the 2019 NBA free agency, the Boston Celtics are surprisingly playing very well in the 2019-20 NBA season, currently sitting in the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference with a 10-1 record. Kemba Walker may not be a better player than Irving, but according to former NBA champion Channing Frye, he is a much better fit for the Celtics’ system. In an appearance on NBA TV’s Handles, Frye explained why the Celtics are performing better with Walker than with Irving on their roster.
“I think it is (designed to excel without a superstar),” Frye said of Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens’ scheme, as quoted by NESN.
“I think for them, less is more. They drafted really well, they made some good acquisitions when they had Al Horford and Gordon Hayward. Those guys fit into Brad Stevens’ system and they excel in that. But when you bring in a guy that’s just an absolute bucket-getter like Kyrie, it takes away from the overall offense. But Kemba’s really good within that system because he’s going to screen, he’s going to move and he’s a little bit more of a point guard than Kyrie.”
When they acquired him in the blockbuster deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers, most people thought that Irving would be the man who would lead them back to title contention and end their title drought. Unfortunately, the past two seasons showed that Irving wasn’t a good fit for Stevens’ system. When Irving suffered a season-ending injury in the 2017-18 NBA season, the Celtics established a better performance and finished as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
During that time, the Celtics were predicted to suffer an early playoff exit, but they ended up reaching the Eastern Conference Finals where they forced a Game 7 against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Things dramatically changed when Irving returned from an injury. Instead of increasing the Celtics’ chances of fully dominating the Eastern Conference and winning the NBA championship title, Irving had negatively affected the Celtics on and off the court. Whenever they lose games, Irving was blaming some of his young teammates for their poor performance on both ends of the floor.
Compared to the previous years that they had Irving as their main man, the Celtics are noticeably playing more as a team in the 2019-20 NBA season. Though Walker is also a ball-dominant superstar like Irving, Stevens is still able to give Celtics’ young players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown a significant role on the offensive end of the floor. Aside from Tatum and Brown, Gordon Hayward also showed an improved performance in their first year without Irving. Unfortunately, just when he was finally starting to live up to expectations, Hayward suffered a hand injury that will keep him on the sideline indefinitely.