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NBA Charlotte Hornets

Kemba Walker Emerging as Upper-Tier Performer

Kemba Walker Damien Lillard

Sam Sharpe – USA Today Sports Images

Not much has been going well for the Charlotte Bobcats as of late. Losers in their last eight contests, Charlotte has performed quite abysmally in the past few weeks. If there’s one positive that they can draw from their recent struggles, it has to be the play of guard Kemba Walker.

There is often talk among analysts of players making their most important leap in performance from their rookie to their sophomore season. John Wall was someone that many expected to make this leap in the 2011-2012 season, only he ended up struggling and digressing a little bit. Walker is not following in those footsteps.

Walker’s stats start the conversation of how much he’s improved. Last season, Walker averaged 12.1 points and 4.4 assist per game along with shooting 36.6 percent from the field. Thus far in this season, he has improved those stats, averaging 17.7 points and 6.1 assists per game while maintaining a shooting percentage of 42.1 percent. Those numbers themselves show that Walker has elevated his game.

More telling of this development, though, is the way he looks on the floor this year. In the 2011-2012 season, Walker looked like he was reverting to his days of NCAA Basketball at Connecticut where he had to take every shot, with it not mattering if it was forced or not. The problem with that style of play is that he was no longer in college and NBA defenders were able to force him into bad shots a lot of the time, leading to his lowly shooting percentage.

Now, under new head coach Mike Dunlap, Walker seems to have found his element. He’s no longer trying to play “hero-ball” every time he gets the rock. He’s become much more of an offensive facilitator, hence the spike in his assist numbers. His shot attempts per game have risen from 11.6 last season to 15.2 this season, but his shooting percentage has also risen. The shots he’s now taking are better looks at the basket because of the way he’s running the offense. Defenses can’t guard only his shot now and are forced to respect his passing ability.

The way Walker has improved gives the Bobcats some hope as he’s developing into a potentially elite NBA player. Subsequently, Walker’s impact could end up reaching far beyond his ability to facilitate an offense and the box score.

The Bobcats lack a true leader on the team. If Charlotte is unable to acquire a player that can step into that leadership role, the duty may fall to Walker. It’s a great deal of responsibility to ask of a second-year player, but it’s also the logical choice.

Walker was a leader for UConn in college, so he’s familiar to that type of role. Moreover, he also already statistically leads the team in points, assists and steals, so his example is already one to be followed. Then, as the point guard, Walker has the ball in his hands or is guarding the ball on almost every possession that he’s on the floor for, meaning he has the ability to control the team on the floor.

Though he’s not an elite player yet, Walker is well on his way if he continues to improve like he has this season. If he continues his development, there’s no doubt that the Bobcats will reap the benefits.