Perhaps no player matters more to their team than Kemba Walker does to the Charlotte Hornets. Sounds a little much? Well, the Hornets play like a 46 win team when he is on the floor and a 21 win when he’s off. Yea, he’s pretty essential. On most nights, he is the Hornets’ offense. Walker is 28-years-old and entering his eighth season. Right in the middle of his prime. Unfortunately, the Hornets wasted two years of prime by not surrounding him with the right pieces, and it has led to back to back 36-46 seasons.
It’s a shame because int he past two years Kemba has become a certified all-star. He did it by fixing the biggest flaw in his game; three-point shooting, in his first four years, he hovered between 30 to 32% from deep, in the last three years he is at 38%. Kemba has become an elite scoring guard averaging 22 points per game int he last three season.
The question is can he take it to another level? Or will he be a star instead of a superstar? Not a bad thing to be by the way, but I have a hunch, Kemba has one more gear to get too. There is no question Kemba will leave it all out on the floor; he is a relentless worker, a grinder who is made of the right stuff. Also, he is in a contract year, and the possible trade from Charlotte still looms. There are questions, but there is excitement went. Let’s look at where Kemba is now with his game.
Where Does Kemba Rank Now?
Kemba is a two-time all-star and a big-time scorer, but he lacks in playmaking and defense. Still, his value to his team is enormous. I would say Kemba is the eight best point guard in the game. Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry are all better. Walker is probably close to Lowry and Wall, and with a strong season, he could pass them. There is a chance he passes a couple this season as he is coming off his most efficient season. Walker had a career-high 57.2 true shooting percentage, thanks to a career-best 86% shooting from the line on a career-best 5.3 attempts per game.
He is an analytics darling. Kemba was 8th in RPm amongst point guards, and 6th in wins added, 8th in P.E.R and 6th in value added. Of course, he also led the Hornets in net rating at +3.5. Dude is an absolute stud. So what makes him so good and so valuable? Let’s break down his strengths.
Honestly, the best part of Kemba’s game is how little he turns the ball over. It’s incredible for how often he has the ball. His turnover percentage is only 9.7%, which ranks in the 93rd percentile according to cleaningtheglass.com, amazing considers he has a usage rate of 29%.
Regarding scoring, Kemba is at his best pulling for jumpers either from three or in the midrange. He uses a variety of moves to create separation. Walker’s got a nasty pull-up, lethal step back and one of the best hesitation moves in the game. He is only 6’0 feet tall, so over years, he has learned how to create space. Kemba shot 39% from three and 41% on all midrange jumpers a good mark for both.
What makes him deadly is his ability to draw fouls. Especially on jumpers, using pump fakes and the old Dwayne Wade move. Walker draws shooting fouls 11.2% of the time, which ranks in the 77th percentile. Combine that with his low turnover player, and you have an efficient player.
Kemba gets to all of his spots mainly as a pick and roll point guard, where he is one of the best in the game. Walker ranked in the 92nd percentile as a pick and roll ball handler according to Synergy Sports. He is so good at changing directions, manipulating defenders so they end up getting smashed by screens, his craftiness is off the charts.
Kemba gets a high ball screen from Dwight Howard at the top of the key. He merely goes around, one dribble, stops on a dime, pulls up from three and drills it. This is where he has improved the most over the years and if a big drops back against him, this is the result you will get.
Walker now is also a good enough shooter now that he can play off the ball. He ranked in the 86th percentile on spot ups. Walker can either shoot a catch and shoot three, or pump and drive and pull up for one of his favorite midrange jumpers. There is a to like about Walker’s game, but there are still some areas he can improve.
Jeremy Lamb starts with a high screen and roll with Dwight Howard. As Lamb comes off the screen, Walker sprints to the right above the three-point line to receive the pass. Once he does, Michael Beasley comes to close out, and Walker hits him with a pump fake, side step and then drills the three to tie the game.
As a scorer, he is pretty complete, the only thing that could help him is finishing at the rim better. A tough ask for a small guard. Last year Walker shot 54% at the rim, a slightly below average mark. He is already super strong and does draw a lot of fouls, but sometimes he can be a little out of control. Honestly, I won’t harp on him for this he has to create something out of nothing a lot in Charlotte.
The area that can take him to another level is his playmaking. Walker is an alright passer; his assist percentage is 26.4%, an average mark. This is a tough thing to teach, and going into his eight-year there are questions if he can significantly improve this area of his game. I think he can become a better passer, but never an elite one.
For his career, he has always hovered around 5.5 to six assists per game. If he improves to 6.5-7, that would significantly help him in the talk of best point guards in the game. Perhaps being surrounded by better offensive talent would help. Just a thought. Charlotte should be a little more explosive this year with Malik Monk, Jeremy Lamb, and Willy Hernangomez. With new coach James Borrego and a faster pace, I bet Walker’s assist numbers go up this season.
Then there is defense. Walker battles on this end, but being short and not particularly long is hard in the NBA, especially at the toughest position to play defense. He has some strengths on this end, he never fouls, is a surprisingly good shot blocker and his strength helps him get through a lot of screens. Kemba ranked 55th amongst all point guards in defensive RPM, but his individual defense is better ranking in the 54th percentile according to Synergy.
A lot of his improvement on this end will come from coaching. Maybe Borrego can protect him in terms of matchups, something Steve Clifford did not do a lot. Regardless, he is likely an average defender at best for the rest of his career. He is a fierce competitor, but physical limitations will always hold him back to a degree.
Projecting Next Season
Walker has improved every season and there’s no reason to think he won’t improve more this season. He is int he prime and about to be at the top of his game. A new coach, a faster pace, and more firepower should help take the load off Kemba a bit, allowing him to be more efficient. Charlotte should have more versatility in their lineups this year, allowing Kemba opportunities to play on or off the ball and have more space.
By all accounts, Kemba is in the best shape of his life and has never looked better. He has a chance to be a 25 point scorer if he gets to 40% from three and improves his finishing at the rim a bit. If he averages 25 points and seven assists per game, I think you have to consider him a superstar. Of course, Charlotte adding to their win total would help. They should be a little better this season, and could make the playoffs, but will likely fall into the 35-40 win range as usual. It won’t matter though if he posts the above stats, that should launch him into the top five or six point guards. I wouldn’t bet against him.