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Why Kemba Walker Is Quietly A Star On The Rise

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Kemba Walker is quietly having a breakout season for the Charlotte Hornets.

In case you missed it, Kemba Walker went absolutely bonkers Monday against the Jazz, dropping 52 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists.


That was a career high in points for Walker, and it was the third highest point total and game score (a formula created by John Hollinger to measure a player’s single game impact) this season, both behind Stephen Curry and Jimmy Butler‘s respective 53 point games.

Four and a half seasons into his professional career, Walker may still be best known for his incredible run to the NCAA National Championship during his final season at Connecticut, including one the most famous shots in recent memory.

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As incredible as that run was, it’s safe to say Walker would prefer to be recognized for his NBA contributions rather than remembered for what he did at the college level. His performance against the Jazz may have marked the beginning of the end of that Kemba, not only because it was an incredible game, but it also brought attention to the breakout season he’s having.

Walker’s short career has been one marked by impressive statistics but poor efficiency. Through his first four seasons, he shot less than 40 percent from the field three times and never shot above 33.3 percent from three.

In his fifth season, Walker is averaging 19.9 points (23rd in the league, and a career high), 5.0 assists (29th), 4.2 rebounds (136th), and 1.7 steals (17th). While those are impressive numbers, the biggest improvement for Walker this season has been his shooting numbers. He is shooting 43.3 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from three, both career highs.

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Walker’s shot charts from the last two seasons show that he is shooting significantly better from most areas of the floor this year. So why this sudden improvement? According to SB Nation, Walker attributes it to a tweak in his shot mechanics.

NBA.com’s shot tracking also reveals that Walker has been taking better shots this season, with a whopping 45.8 percent of his shots being taken with the closest defender four feet or farther away, compared to only 37.4 percent last year.

2014-2015

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2015-2016

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This difference could easily be attributed to better shot selection or increased ability to create space by Walker, but what has likely been the biggest contributor is spacing. As effective as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is on the defensive end and as a slasher, his presence on the wing does not serve as even a resemblance of a catch-and-shoot threat, considering his 16.7 percent career three-point stroke (no, you did not misread that).

With Kidd-Gilchrist sidelined by an injury, Nicolas Batum and P.J. Hairston patrol the wings. They are only shooting 35.5 and 31.7 percent from three, respectively, but they must at least be respected and, as a result, provide space for Walker to work with. The additions of Marvin Williams and rookie Frank Kaminsky at the power forward spot provide even more spacing, as they are shooting 38.1 and 34.3 percent from three, respectively. 

Behind Walker’s leadership, the Hornets have gotten off to a respectable 19-22 start, a record that may be even better if star center Al Jefferson hadn’t missed 22 games. In Batum, Kidd-Gilchrist, Kaminsky, Hairston, and even Jeremy Lamb and Cody Zeller, the Hornets have pieces to build for the future with or without Jefferson, who’s entering the tail end of his prime. And if Walker, 25, can continue to improve and become more efficient, the Hornets could be going places. 

Edited by Emily Berman, John Ray.

SQuiz
Where did Kemba Walker attend college?
Created 1/20/16
  1. Duke
  2. Syracuse
  3. Connecticut
  4. Notre Dame

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