It’s tough to measure determination. It’s difficult to quantify leadership. When Kemba left Connecticut for the NBA fresh off an NCAA championship and Most Outstanding Player award there was certainly pre-draft talk about his zeal for winning and his toughness on the court but often it was in defense of his size. Kemba knew he had a hill to climb the moment the Bobcats called his name at #9 in 2011.
“I’m not 6’3″, 6’4″ but I got a big heart,” Kemba told ESPN at Radio City Music Hall.
He promised to bring a winning attitude and did he ever. The landscape of former Bobcats point guards is littered with almost-could’ve-beens. When Kemba arrived and started slashing through bigger defenders and hitting big shot after big shot it was evident the script had been flipped. The Bobcats had their point guard of the future. The Hornets have their leader.
Doug Branson @QCHDoug
In 2012-13 Kemba was in his second year in the league and his first as a full time starter. He evolved from a run-n-gun score first point guard into more of a traditional slash-n-dish point guard. Last year he changed his strategy again, getting to the basket less, shooting more three pointers and finding a two-man groove with new big man Al Jefferson.
The last point there is key. Al Jefferson changed a lot of things about the Charlotte offense. He gave us a dependable scoring threat down low but he also opened up a lot of space away from the basket for those willing and able to shoot. Kemba increased his workload beyond the three point line but he also took a lot of midrange shots. Let’s check some charts courtesy of our friends at Nylon Calculus.
A tale of two Kembas right? You can really see the effect that having a true center has had on his game. He was less prone last year than in 2012 to drive down the lane, instead opting to go left or right and pulling up short.
He’s an above the break three point shooter and thankfully his percentages have gotten better year after year. Unfortunately his midrange shot didn’t follow the same pattern. Volume from midrange (especially the left elbow) is increasing while percentages decrease.
In his three years Kemba has seen three coaches, three schemes and a slew of different players come in and out the doors of Time Warner. It is little surprise that his game has been all over the place. This year the Hornets return head coach Steve Clifford and the core of players he led to the playoffs. His fourth season, a contract year, will be a defining year in Kemba’s offensive evolution.
Quick hands and reaction time are Kemba’s strengths on the defensive end, and any coach that he plays for throughout his NBA career will have to allow him to gamble defensively in order to maximize his value on this end of the floor.
Defending pick-and-rolls isn’t a nightmare for Kemba due to his quickness, but he can improve his reaction time + communication in these situations. Kemba was faced with a tall task in pick-and-roll situations when Al Jefferson was pulled away from the basket. Jefferson’s heavy feet, combined with slow reaction time, make Jefferson a poor PnR defender, and this puts Kemba in a tough spot. For the vast majority of last season Charlotte simply sagged Jefferson below PnR’s, not committing him to hedge, and Kemba had the choice of whether he wanted to go over or under the screen. In the playoffs against Miami, and a more athletic frontcourt, we saw where the communication between Kemba and Jefferson was lacking – Jefferson had to chase Bosh out higher on PnR because of his ability to shoot the ball, and this opened up the lane. Kemba getting hung on screens in these kind of scenarios is a layup at the rim waiting to happen. So again, the combo of Kemba and Jefferson must get better at communicating on PnR’s moving forward. Jefferson will continue to sag low, but the more Kemba can front the pick and ICE (especially sideline PnR’s) the action, the better off this team will be defensively.
Per MySynergySports.com, 48.6% of Kemba’s defensive sequences last season took place with him guarding the PnR ball-handler. He surrendered a 38.1% FG rate to his opponent, and a whopping 39.1% 3FG. The overall FG% isn’t horrible, but the 3FG rate makes you cover your eyes in horror. Simply put, Kemba goes under screens too often, and I think it’s because he believes his quickness will bail him out. Committing to fighting over screens will alleviate Kemba from being burned on three-pointers.
Kemba’s steal rate dropped rather significantly last season, but this is likely a bi-product of him learning a new defensive system under Clifford more than anything else. That number should begin to climb again over the next few seasons.
Let’s focus on one aspect of Kemba as an athlete: Quickness. If we had to compare every player on this roster to an animal, Kemba’s would be a cobra. His lighting quick hands and reaction time put him in a league of his own. Using this advantage on both the offensive and defensive end are very important, and overall Kemba does an average job of this. Charlotte has not surrounded the fourth-year PG with players that can play an up-tempo style, but the addition of Lance Stephenson could break that dam. Stephenson averaged 7.2 RPG last season, and he’s plenty capable of bringing the ball up the floor, especially when he senses an advantage. This could be a godsend for getting Kemba transition opportunities + more FGA at the rim, improving his overall effective FG%.
With the addition of guys like Stephenson and Williams this summer, it’s fair to believe that Kemba will feel green-lighted to take more chances on the offensive end. So to say it’s very likely he’ll be more decisive with the ball this season, negating some of the over-dribbling, and bad shots at the end of the shot-clock. Jefferson helped Kemba in this department last season, but the newest facelift to the roster should continue that improvement. Decisive moves getting him to the rim, and possible more time off-the-ball with the additions of Stephenson and Roberts will prayerfully be contributing factors to the continued development.
Spencer Percy @QCHSpencer
Kemba Walker spent less time driving to the basket last season but when he did his cuts were effective. He has a unique capability to control ball and make split-second decisions. While he struggles to maintain consistency around the rim, Walker is able to contort his body and get the best angle on the basket.
Kemba Walker and Big Al made for some great two man action last year. Along with the Hornet Handoff, Kemba found multiple ways to work with Jefferson for mutual offensive success.
Last season, Walker was able to vastly his improve his work on the defensive end with a newfound focus and determination on the perimeter. Kemba is able to quickly get in position and keep his eyes on the opposition. His steal numbers may have slightly declined, but that shouldn’t take away from how much of a pest Walker can be to an opposing point guard.
Dakota Schmidt @Dakota_Schmidt
NUMBERS TO KNOW
Kemba Walker has taken strides each season, but in order to take the next step and lead the suddenly-contending Hornets, there are a couple areas in which Walker will need to improve.
Number to know: .443
.443 represents Walker’s career-average effective field goal percentage. Effective field goal percentage adjusts normal shooting percentage to take into account that a three-point field goal is worth more than a two-point field goal. In short, it illustrates how effective a player’s shooting is, and Kemba’s just isn’t very good.
Last year’s league leader in EFG%, DeAndre Jordan, had an average of 68%. The game’s greatest, LeBron James’ effective field goal percentage was 61. At .441, Walker was 119th in the league last year in EFG%, and for him to grow as a point guard and a player that could help lead Charlotte to a title, that number needs to improve.
As a starting point guard in the league, on a team teeming with talent, that number needs to be bumped up to.500. Such improvement will have a lot to do with more consistent shooting, and shot selection. Walker tends to take a lot of midrange jumpshots, which he doesn’t convert at a very high percentage. Such shots are not considered to be amongst the best in basketball. Walker is more effective when he takes the ball to the basket.
Another number: 28%
Only 28% of Walker’s total shots last season were taken from 8 feet and in, where Walker shot 47%. That number is a big drop from the 2012-13 season, where Walker took almost 38% of his shots from eight feet and in. If he wants to improve his EFG%, and help open the court for some of the other options the Hornets have acquired, he needs to emphasize taking the ball to the basket. He’ll open up three point opportunities for others and land at the line more consistently.
Michael Kaskey-Blomain @therealmikekb
HIVE TALK LIVE TAKE
Doug and Spencer share their thoughts on Kemba Walker. Join Hive Talk Live every Friday at 6:30pET ONLY on Queen City Hoops
We’ll be profiling every player on the roster between now and the beginning of the season. Check back next Wednesday when we profile Cody Zeller.