Skip to main content
Original Issue

11 Boston Celtics Has Antoine Walker finally learned that victories, and not a slew of showy stats, are the real measure of a star?

When is Antoine Walker going to be recognized for his remarkable
productivity rather than his supposed selfishness? The Celtics'
co-captain, Walker was the only player to rank in the top 20 in
points, rebounds, assists and steals last season, yet he failed
to make the All-Star cut. What more is a 25-year-old power
forward to do? "If you want the accolades, you have to win," says
Boston coach Jim O'Brien. "I think Antoine can have a breakout
year, because I think we're going to win."

In his five seasons with the Celtics, Walker has drawn
justifiable criticism for shooting too much and showboating.
Those complaints subsided last season, however, when he ceded the
scoring spotlight to small forward Paul Pierce to help Boston
make a run at the playoffs. Together they led the team to a 24-24
finish under O'Brien, who had replaced Rick Pitino in midseason.

It was no coincidence that Walker responded to O'Brien or that he
showed up in the best shape of his career for the coach's first
training camp. He believes in O'Brien more than he did in Pitino,
who often blamed his failures on his power forward, making Walker
the target of the fans' discontent. Unlike Pitino, Walker, who
signed a six-year extension in January '99, is willing to ride
out the bad times. "People in Boston appreciate good teams," he
says. "I've seen how it is when we aren't doing well, and it
makes me think how good it's going to be when we're winning."

The Celtics aren't going to outmuscle opponents to the playoffs:
The 6'9" Walker attempted a league-leading 603 three-pointers,
compared with 348 free throws. G.M. Chris Wallace insists,
however, that Tony Battie, Mark Blount and Vitaly Potapenko will
combine for above-average production inside. Wallace notes that
Battie was the team's third-best player before missing 41 games
with a sprained left ankle. In his absence Blount emerged as a
solid center, and the team went on to play its most consistent
basketball. Says O'Brien, "We have a good marriage of players
who are really sick and tired of losing."

Among those most fed up is 31-year-old point guard Kenny
Anderson, who will try to recover from the worst season of his
career. His importance has grown now that O'Brien has shelved his
plans to play Walker at the point, an idea he had before the new
rules permitting zones, which will make it harder for Walker to
exploit mismatches. "Antoine is still going to have the ball in
his hands a lot as a point forward," O'Brien says.

Of Boston's three first-round picks, 6'7" swingman Joe Johnson of
Arkansas is the one who will be asked to contribute immediately
as a much-needed third scorer; Pierce and Walker accounted for
51.0% of the team's points last year. (The other No. 1 choices,
shooting guard Joseph Forte of North Carolina and forward Kedrick
Brown of Okaloosa-Walton Community College, will take longer to
develop.) The most important newcomer, however, may be assistant
coach Dick Harter, a defensive whiz who must shore up a team that
allowed 45.9% shooting, fifth worst in the league.

Over the 40 years of Red Auerbach's reign as G.M., the Celtics
never went more than six seasons without a title; now it has been
that long since they reached the playoffs. Pierce is prepared to
improve on last year's individual success, when he ranked eighth
in the league in scoring. He notes that Walker looks stronger
after spending the summer working out in Chicago with Michael
Jordan and trainer Tim Grover. "You can see Antoine's attitude
has changed," Pierce says. "I tell him he can average 20 points,
10 rebounds and eight assists. I can't think of another player
with that type of ability. He can be like Magic Johnson for our

You know it's been too long since the Celtics achieved success
when they're looking to the Lakers for inspiration.


COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER MAGIC TOUCH Walker accepted a lesser role in the offense, but he still flashed skills that conjure visions of an old Celtics nemesis.

enemy lines
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Celtics

"They're still going to have problems inside. To me their best
center is Vitaly Potapenko, who would be a backup for a lot of
teams. Tony Battie is a decent weakside shot blocker, but he's
not good guarding his own guy.... I suppose they're going to go
to the full-court or half-court trap more to get the ball out of
the opposing point guard's hands. They don't want teams running
plays and executing in the post, where they're vulnerable....
When the Celtics post up, they do it quickly with Antoine Walker
slicing to the basket. He doesn't like to settle in the low box
because he's not explosive going through people.... Paul Pierce
can shoot the three and he can drive to the basket, but what
sets him apart is his in-between game--he can pull up for that
medium-range shot or draw the defenders and pass. He plays with
his head up.... I'm not a big Kenny Anderson guy, but it doesn't
help him that the ball is in Antoine's hands so much. Kenny's at
his best when he's driving and dishing off to a teammate. When
Antoine's running the play, Kenny becomes a perimeter shooter,
and he isn't good at it.... It was harder to prepare for them
under Rick Pitino because he was so anal with his continuity
plays; he wanted the ball to go through three players before
they took a shot. It was like he'd call those things to show
other coaches that he could execute such a complicated play. In
the meantime Walker would be standing there with an open shot
thinking, Are we running this play to give you some kind of
high, or do you want me to get us a bucket?"

projected lineup
2000-01 record: 36-46 (fifth in Atlantic)
Coach: Jim O'Brien (second season with Celtics)

PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS

SF Paul Pierce 25.3 ppg 6.4 rpg 3.1 apg 1.68 spg 45.4 FG%
PF Antoine Walker 23.4 ppg 8.9 rpg 5.5 apg 1.70 spg 36.7 3FG%
C Tony Battie 6.5 ppg 5.8 rpg 1.50 bpg 0.68 spg 53.7 FG%
SG Joe Johnson(R)[1]14.2 ppg 6.4 rpg 1.43 spg 46.8 FG% 44.3 3FG%
PG Kenny Anderson 7.5 ppg 4.1 apg 2.2 rpg 1.33 spg 38.8 FG%

PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS

F Eric Williams 6.6 ppg 2.6 rpg 1.4 apg 36.2 FG% 33.1 3FG%
G Kedrick Brown(r)[1]22.9 ppg 8.8 rpg 3.0 apg 52.8 FG% 40.4 3FG%
C Mark Blount 3.9 ppg 3.6 rpg 1.19 bpg 0.61 spg 50.5 FG%
G Milt Palacio 5.9 ppg 2.6 apg 1.8 rpg 0.83 spg 47.2 FG%
C Vitaly Potapenko 7.5 ppg 6.0 rpg 0.28 bpg 47.6 FG% 72.8 FT%

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)
(r) Rookie (statistics for final junior college season)

"It was harder to prepare for them under Pitino because he was
so anal."