CHICAGO — The Dallas Mavericks will surely want to forget their 144-115 defeat against the Chicago Bulls Saturday night, where they allowed 82 points in the first half. But there was a silver lining for the Mavs without Luka Doncic on an otherwise brutal night.
The game saw the debut of four-time All-Star Kemba Walker, who Dallas signed last month. In 20 minutes of action, Walker finished with eight points, five assists, two rebounds and one block. It’s a modest stat, but given that the 32-year-old Walker hasn’t played in 10 months, it’s a promising return for the former franchise star player.
There have been times in the game where you’ve seen flashes of the former All-Star in Walker, whether he’s finishing hard shots or making impressive pennies. Although he has a history of injuries including a knee injury that has plagued him for several seasons since his time with the Boston Celtics, Walker looked lively and showed no signs of having had any trouble. After the game, Walker spoke about his long-awaited return to hardwood.
“It was awesome, I was home a few weeks ago,” Walker said, referring to the fact that not too long ago he was a free agent. “It’s really good, really rewarding to be back.”
Prior to the injuries, it was unfathomable to think that Walker would be a free agent this season, as he was one of the league’s deadliest guards during his years with the Charlotte Hornets and several seasons with the Celtics. But injuries have a habit of doing that in a player’s career, and after a 37-game stint with the New York Knicks last season, in which Walker fell completely out of the rotation, then was traded, then dropped by the Detroit Pistons in the offseason, Walker was left without a team.
That changed when the Mavericks signed Walker to a minimum one-year contract on Nov. 29, as the team felt they needed another guard after it was clear Dallas had failed to properly handled the loss of Jalen Brunson in the offseason. After several practices and watching the team from the bench since joining them, Walker finally made his debut and he admitted he was nervous when he checked in for the first time in 297 days .
“A little, a little,” Kemba said in reference to whether he had any nerves when he first checked in. “But once I saw my first shot go in, [the nerves] somehow is gone.”
This first basket made came in the first quarter, a mid-range shot from the top of the sidelines. It looked like vintage Kemba, a slick sweater you knew was going in as soon as it slipped out of her fingers.
“It was definitely a great feeling,” Walker said. “I worked hard to get back to this level.”
Although the result was not a win for Walker and the Mavericks, the former lottery pick was one of only two players on the Dallas team to finish with a plus-2 point differential. . And while that might not mean much in what was a lopsided affair as Dallas was without Doncic – who was out with a quadruple injury – it speaks to the positive impact when he was on the floor. That positive impact is something Mavericks coach Jason Kidd applauded after the game.
“I think Kemba did a good job of getting us organized offensively and defensively,” Kidd said. “When you look at him, there were only two guys that were positive, and he was one of them, him and Reggie [Bullock]. In a game like this, it’s almost impossible to do, but those two were positive and so Kemba did a really good job.”
As for Walker’s evolving role for the Mavericks, Kidd mentioned that it’s possible we could see him on the floor with Doncic when he returns, but we didn’t want to set a deadline.
“We’ll get to see these two play together, it’s early in the season so we have a lot of basketball left to play,” Kidd said. “When Luka comes back, I hope we can get these two together on the floor.”