Kemba Walker has a lot of improving to do. He’s not an effective three-point shooter. Defensively, we saw him struggle to compete with the League’s elite point guards. His passing abilities still leave plenty to be desired. But yet, he is already the Bobcats best player and really their only valuable asset moving forward (pending the development of MKG and Zeller).
Why is he so valuable? First of all, his contract. Kemba is on the books for another two years at a below market rate of roughly $2.6 million this season and $3.3 million for the next. Technically the fourth year is a team option but unless they’re using the Denver Bronco’s fax machine that will be picked up in a heartbeat. The opposite can be said for the fifth year of the contract, a qualifying offer that calls for Mr. Walker to earn just north of $4.4 million. Assuming a deal is not worked out prior (which would be smart), he will kindly say no thank you and hit the open – though restricted – market. However, two more years at an economical rate is very valuable.
He can get to the rim. He needs to do a better job of finishing when he gets there (only Mike Conley and his teammate Ramon Sessions recorded a lower FG% at the rim last year among PG’s in the top ten of attempts/game), though he did make a dramatic improvement from his rookie season (.567 vs. .494). Most of the top PG’s in the game get to the rim incessantly unless they are knock down shooters who can compensate for playing primarily on the perimeter (think Deron Williams) or sport uncanny midrange games (Chris Paul). Getting into the paint not only creates high percentage shots for Kemba, it leads to quality attempts for his teammates – assuming he passes them the ball (more on this later).
There are more attributes that make Kemba the most valuable Bobcat (hopefully sooner than later that won’t be an eye-roller), but there are just as many that need improving if he hopes to someday lead this franchise to the playoffs and beyond.
At this point in his career Kemba is clearly a score-first PG. Of the PG’s in the top fifteen of PER last season (Kemba finished 9th!), only Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, and Tyreke Evans had an assist rate equal to or lower than Kemba Walker’s. One is an all-universe athlete, another is a ball-handling and off-the-dribble savant, and the other should not be a PG. Kemba must learn how to more effectively set up his teammates as too many of his possessions have ended up wasted on inefficient midrange attempts (4.9 per game at just over 41% from the field last season).
He has to improve defensively. As Zach Lowe (one of my favorites) often points out, the majority of PG’s struggle on the defensive end of the floor. They’re often outsized (particularly in situations that call for a switch) and burdened with a heavy workload on the offensive end. However, it doesn’t mean Kemba can’t improve, especially when it comes to team defense.
He also must improve from behind the arc. The Bobcats are already challenged from deep (see Henderson, Gerald and Kidd-Gilchrist, Michael) so it will be difficult for the Bobcats to compete if none of them improve in this area. Kemba will more than likely never be able to come off the dribble on the pick and roll a la Steve Nash and hit a three-pointer, but he can improve his ability to catch and shoot as well as his positioning on the floor (find the corner, Kemba) when his teammates are isolated and looking to drive and kick.
Will Kemba improve upon what are already his strengths and make strides in the way of his weaknesses? Probably not all of them this season. But if he finds a way to do so in at least a few of the areas mentioned above the team will see the difference on the court and the Bobcats front office will be looking to lock him up for the foreseeable future. When it comes down to it, that’s my projection for Kemba this year.