After being selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft Kemba Walker entered his first season with something to prove. Walker was fresh off a NCAA national championship at UConn and was lauded as a "winner" out of college. Michael Jordan and general manager Rich Cho wanted to change the culture of losing within the organization and take a more proven player to pair with the No. 7 overall pick in that same draft, who ended up being Bismack Biyombo.
The pick of Walker didn't exactly change the losing culture in Charlotte, as we all know the team would go on to win only seven games in a lockout shortened season. Walker wasn't to be blamed for the poor season by the Bobcats. The team was too young, experienced too many injuries and simply didn't have enough talent.
Veteran D.J. Augustin was entrenched as the starting point guard at the beginning of the season, but injuries and the decision to play Kemba at the 2 occasionally led to him starting 25 games. Overall it was an up and down season for the rookie guard with mixed results.The Bobcats didn't feel confident enough to go into the season with Walker running the offense this early in his career, which is why Ramon Sessions was brought in on a two-year deal.
Look for Walker to be used as a spark plug off the bench. Last season he struggled getting others involved only compiling 4.4 assists per game in an average of 27.2 minutes. Playing with a lack of talent and having to be more of a scorer didn't help any, but getting others involved doesn't come naturally to Walker; it's something he is going to have to continue to work on and have coaches continue to stress.
The biggest concern heading into year two with Kemba isn't on the offensive end. We know he's going to be able to put points on the board but can he prevent them? He's listed at 6'1" and around 170 pounds give or take a few. We saw him struggle to stay in front of opponents last season and most guards were able to push him around.
Walker is always going to have a disadvantage on the defensive end because of his size, but he can become a much better technical defender. Learning how to stay focused, how to play angles, anticipate and learn the nuances of other point guards will come as he ages. Right now a consistent effort on the defensive end would be nice to see. At times last season when the team was struggling or Walker's shot wasn't falling the defensive focus and effort wasn't there. He's got to play at a higher level on the defensive side if he wants to be the point guard of the future for this team.
On the offensive side of things, the clear area of improvement has to come in shooting percentage. Last season he finished at 36 percent and 30 percent from beyond the arc. The good news is he was able to create space and get good looks in his rookie season, but he failed to knock down shots that he should make. Walker was a volume scorer in college and it may be unrealistic to expect him to shoot at a high percentage compared to his peers.
There's a lot to like about the young guard but the biggest question I struggle with is whether or not he can be the lead guard on a team. It'll be interesting to see what role he ultimately serves this season. Is he going to be asked to come in behind Sessions and be a prototypical point guard, or will first year head coach Mike Dunlap let him be more of a scorer, which is unquestionably his greatest strength.
Last season sucked any hope and optimism fans had about this roster. I think from some there was this perception that Walker could come in and have a Cam Newton-esque effect on the franchise. A lot of people just saw the highlights and remember him lighting it up in college and held on to the glimmer of hope it would translate over to the NBA. There's no question in my mind one of the biggest things that hindered Kemba was the lack of talent around him. Injuries left him leading an offense Steve Nash would struggle to look good in.
In year two don't expect a drastic leap from Walker but steady improvement. With Sessions in the fold it will take the pressure off of Kemba to carry so much of the burden this season. This team isn't going to make the playoffs any time soon if it doesn't successfully develop its younger players. Walker's maturation into a team leader and more of a distributor will determine his long term success, but for this season just making steps forward, no matter how big would be constituted as a success.