Bill Walker couldn’t help himself.
For about 15 minutes following the final workout of the preseason, the Celtics rookie forward made his way to a basket at the far end of the practice parquet and dutifully shot free throws. Nothing glamorous. More like a daily homework assignment.
Eventually, out of boredom or simply to reward himself for finishing his chores, he abandoned his final foul shot in favor of a rim-shaking jam before heading back to the training room.
Right before he got there, he called for the ball once more and delivered a final powerful dunk that had heads turning all over the Waltham facility.
Those crowd-energizing moments made the second-round pick out of Kansas State University an instant hit in his first preseason game. But Walker knows that the more subtle things such as free throws, bursts of defensive energy, and his seemingly natural ability to infuriate opposing scorers will earn him a piece of the minutes pie.
“Coming to a team that won a championship without you, I’m prepared to not be able to play sometimes,” he said. “I’m not going to pout about it. I’ve just got to keep getting myself ready to play every day and be ready when the time comes.”
Although he has a mature and realistic perspective on his first pro season, Walker has never been one to patiently wait his turn. He mixed it up with Kevin Garnett in one of the first practices of training camp, bumped chests with LeBron James in a preseason game, and nearly came to blows with Tracy McGrady in an exhibition three weeks ago.
“He’s active and physical, and that’s going to bother a lot of other players,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “But that’s what’s going to earn him a place in this league.”
After an eye-opening debut with eight points, including two big dunks, against the Sixers on Oct. 8, Walker quieted down as he dealt with the lingering discomfort of arthroscopic right knee surgery earlier this summer — his third knee operation since high school, including two anterior cruciate ligament repairs.
He averaged only 3.9 points in seven preseason games but said he is happy with his progress.
“I think I got better on the defensive end as the preseason went on,” he said. “A lot of guys can score in this league, so I try to do other things, too. I wanted to go out there and prove that I can play a little D, create second-chance opportunities, and help on the defensive boards with that second unit.”
He said he wants to be more than just a dunker.
“I’m working on everything,” he said. “Pullups, my 3s, I’m even starting to work on some floaters now. The more you go on, people don’t want to get dunked on, so you’re going to have to have a short-range shot like that.”
Perhaps Rivers’ greatest feat last regular season was to win 66 games and still hold Kevin Garnett under 33 minutes per game. The Defensive Player of the Year’s 32:47 court time was more than five minutes below his career average.
The coach said it’s a formula he would like to follow again with the 32-year-old Garnett, and he hopes to expand it to Paul Pierce, 31, and Ray Allen, 33.
“I don’t know if I can play Kevin any less than I did last year without there being a revolt,” Rivers said. “But there were times when I think Paul and Ray got into the 40s, and I’d like to avoid that.”
Allen said he expects as much.
“Last year, we had a lot of lopsided games where we rested in the fourth quarter,” he said. “I think our second-string lineup is going to be tested a lot more this year.”
No resting on their laurels
Rivers said he is counting on Allen, Garnett, and Pierce to be the hall monitors against any complacency this season.
But that doesn’t mean the coaches won’t be doing their part to create the same sense of daily urgency that fueled last year’s title run.
“We don’t have a choice,” Kendrick Perkins said of the practice ethic. “The coaches, with the staff we’ve got with Doc and his coaching staff, they demand the best out of us. We don’t have a choice but to go out on the court and to leave it out there for him.”
Scott Souza covers the Celtics for OT and can be reached at email@example.com
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This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
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Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports