Top 5 Boston Celtics players of the 21st century

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Kevin Garnett
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Kevin Garnett /
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Boston Celtics
Antoine Walker (Photo by M. David Leeds/Getty Images) /

No. 4: Antoine Walker

People forget just how great Antoine Walker was.

The Boston Celtics were not a serious team when they drafted Walker sixth overall in 1996 (in a draft that included Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Allen Iverson). After years of contending for championships, the Celtics won 48, 32, 35, and 33 wins in the seasons following Larry Bird’s retirement. In the 1995-1996 season, the Celtics had the 17th ranked offense and the 22nd ranked defense.

Antoine Walker didn’t turn things around –  at least not right away. The Celtics won 15 games the next year with a -6.8 net rating. What he did, instead, was give a fanbase  (one still reeling from Larry Bird walking out that door) a star to root for.

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Walker put up 17.5 points per game in his rookie year and earned a selection to the All-Rookie team. Rick Pitino didn’t contribute much to the franchise (outside of an infamous rant), but one thing he did accomplish? Unlocking Walker – he helped his former college player to a 22 PPG, 10 RPG second season that earned him an All-Star appearance. He would be an All-Star twice more in his Celtics tenure, including one appearance as an All-Star starter.

Imagining Walker in a modern offense is a fascinating thought exercise. He was a 6’9 forward who could dribble, shoot the three, and pass like a guard. His basic assist numbers aren’t impressive, but his assist percentage was phenomenal for a non-guard at the time. His defense is rarely talked about nowadays, but maybe the rangy forward would fit better in a switch-heavy modern defense.

Walker gets forgotten because he was a part of so many miserable Celtics squads, but his impact on the franchise is undeniable. He led the Celtics back to the playoffs in 2002 alongside Paul Pierce, a massive moment for a franchise struggling to find its way. He played seven seasons in Celtics green (ignoring that 24 game return in 2005) and played 81 or 82 games in five of them. He gave a starving fanbase something to cheer about for the first time in years. For those reasons, he is most certainly deserving of a top 5 spot.