How Kemba Walker Has Taken His Game to the Next Level
Kemba Walker has the made the All-Star team the past two years. Impressive, yet this has gone seemingly unnoticed as Walker plays for the small market Charlotte Hornets, a team that went 36-46 in both of the last two seasons.
People knew Walker was good, perhaps the 10th to 12th best point guard in the NBA. But nobody saw this year’s explosion coming.
Last season Walker was caught in trade rumors, putting a damper on his rising stardom. Instead, Charlotte decided to stick with Kemba. The team got a new coach in James Borrego, got rid of Dwight Howard, and now seem to have no plans on trading Kemba.
Charlotte's cap situation is still a mess, but things are looking up in Charlotte. Borrego is playing smaller lineups, with more shooting, more ball movement, and a higher pace. That has helped Kemba immensely.
Walker has more room to operate in pick and rolls and isolations, and he has delivered. This season Kemba is averaging 27.9 points and 6.3 assists per game on 45 percent shooting from the field and 38 percent from deep. He has cemented himself as a top five point guard.
The new coach, system, and personnel have all helped, but Kemba is also a relentless worker and gets better every year. Now, he is in the middle of a career season. What does that mean for him and the Hornets?
Where has Walker improved?
Kemba is in the 83rd percentile in point per shot attempts, 75th in assist percentage and 91st in turnover percentage. Pretty damn good. He can still struggle scoring at the rim, but he is also in the 91st percentile in the midrange and 64th percentile from three. He is also drawing fouls at a good rate and shoots 86 percent from the line.
Walker’s range and scoring volume have improved the most this season. Kemba is shooting an immense ten threes per game. He is feasting from deep, and his pull-up jumper is one of the best in the game. This puts a ton of pressure on a defense.
If a defender overreacts to one of Kemba’s pull-up threes, he has the handle to go by them and either pull up from midrange, draw a foul, or dish to a teammate. He is averaging the most assists and free throw attempts per game of his career.
Kemba has always been a good pick and roll guard, but this year he is on another level. According to Synergy Sports, he ranks in the 97th percentile in pick and rolls. He and Cody Zeller have fantastic chemistry, but he knows how to use all his teammates.
Kemba is a surgeon when it comes to tearing apart opponents. Here, he sees Marvin Williams coming to set a ball screen, so he goes towards Williams, Setting up poor Reggie Jackson to get smashed by the incoming pick. This draws a switch; once Blake Griffin is on him, Kemba torches Blake. He drives into the paint just enough to get Andre Drummond to commit and once he does, Walker hits Willy Hernangomez with a nice shovel pass for the layup.
Kemba doesn't always need a screen to generate offense. He is a deadly isolation player, ranking in the 99th percentile. Kemba only does this eight percent of the time; Charlotte should look to do it a little more, despite a system that demands ball movement. Kemba is that good.
Kemba is at the top left of the key with the much taller Ben Simmons guarding him. He hits Simmons with two crossovers, drives and keeps Simmons on his hip to shield him away. Once Kemba gets to his spot in the paint, he rises up for a nice right-handed floater. His in-between game has improved this year.
Defensively Walker has really started to shine. He ranks in the 80th percentile according to Synergy. Kemba has learned to use his strength to fight through screens, and he is simply smarter. He never fouls, gets blocks at an above average rate, and is a good rebounder for his position. Walker’s positioning and effort have been excellent so far, and it's a reason Charlotte is a solid 13th in defense.
Let's be real though; Kemba is a scorer. It’s no surprise his break-out season has coincided with a Charlotte team ranked fifth in offense. Coach Borrego has given Kemba the ultimate green light, and his usage and efficiency have never been higher.
What it means for Kemba and Charlotte
Kemba is a lock to make the All-Star team for the third year in a row. He is also likely to make his first All-NBA team. Charlotte has Kemba's Bird Rights and can offer him a more lucrative contract. If he makes an All-NBA team, however, the team will have to pay Kemba even more. That may hamstring the already hamstrung Hornets, but Kemba is worth it.
Walker is only 28, and he has the kind of game that doesn't rely on athleticism. Retaining Kemba could cost the Hornets free agents such as Jeremy Lamb, but the team also has a young core of Miles Bridges, Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon that could grow with Walker.
If the Hornets re-sign Kemba, it would be a monumental win for the franchise. He’s a true super-star, the rarest and most essential commodity in the NBA. Even if the cap situation is tight moving forward, free agents may want to play with Kemba, yes even in Charlotte.
This still may not be enough to be a championship contender, but it's enough to be a consistent playoff team, and that for Charlotte is a huge win.