Coming into this season, Kemba Walker looked to be at a crossroads of sorts. With two seasons leading rather dreadful teams under his belt, Walker needed some help so as to not pigeonhole his game purely as a scoring guard, like his previous seasons. The Bobcats went out and got him a terrific complement in Al Jefferson, who turned in arguably his finest season to date. Adding Jefferson gave the Bobcats a talented frontcourt presence for Walker to work with for the first time in his career. With that in mind, he seemed poise to finally get the consistent finisher to help bolster the other part of Walker's skills: passing.
The start wasn't great as Jefferson's ankle sprain kept him hobbled for the initial weeks and the Bobcats' offense meandered away in rank performances due to a lack of three point shooters to help space the floor. Walker looked much the same for the first couple months, coming to a head in late December when the defense collapsed for a short stint without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Bobcats got a bit too focused on trying to score. To his credit, this was actually Walker's best month on offense, and the Bobcats needed it with the offensive mess they were trying to sort out.
Eventually the Bobcats' offense started to fall into place. Chris Douglas-Roberts and Anthony Tolliver began to get more consistent minutes off the bench due to defensive efforts coupled with solid three-point shooting. But Walker's offense took major hits for whatever reason, shooting well below 40 percent from the field in 2014. Thankfully, while his shooting regressed, his passing progressed, averaging more than seven assists in each month since December. He missed a few weeks after a rough ankle sprain, but returned without missing too much of a step.
He had a fine showing in the Bobcats' first-round series against the Heat, dropping about 20 points and six assists in their contests on 47.3 percent shooting. Unfortunately, he also turned the ball over nearly four times a game, uncharacteristic for Walker, whose playoff turnover percentage was about eight percentage points higher than his regular season mark.
I discussed this a bit in our End of Season Roundtable, but I found Walker's season to be a bit disappointing, partially due to expectations I had and partially due to his regression as an effective scorer.
However, the last few months were quite encouraging. In Walker's first season with a true complementary dependable offensive weapon, the offense struggled to find its foothold early in the season but when it found its groove, Walker performed much better as a passer, which shouldn't be too surprising. However, his field goal percentage fell three percentage points, which is only slightly mitigated by a marginally improved three-point shot. Walker's shot selection turned more heavily to the midrange and long shots. He took 41.5 percent of his field goals inside 10 feet in the previous season, which fell to 30.8 this year. The average distance on his attempts increased from 13.4 to 15.2 feet.
With a monumental coaching change between the two years, it can be difficult to parse out the individual performance from the team changes. Clearly the Bobcats' slowed down a ton. Easier transition points dried up to cut down on turnovers and to become more disciplined on defense while committing to a more fundamental offense. That hurts Walker's offensive impact, sure, but it makes the team better, especially defensively which can pay dividends on offense in turn. In narrowing our focus, MySynergySports tells us Steve Clifford and the Bobcats utilized Walker much more in the pick and roll to the tune of 41.6 percent of his possessions, up from 35.8. The pick and roll is a neat play due to the ability of the guard and big to ad lib as they read the defense's reaction, which can open up either player for scoring chances or draw defenders from elsewhere on the court. Unfortunately, Walker shot much worse out of the pick and roll than last year, which I think we can attribute to his willingness to settle for long midrange shots, which he simply didn't make at a good rate.
Season grade: B-
Walker's offense took a little step back, but he still had a strong season and showed improvement as a distributor towards the last chunk of the season, buoying his poor shooting.
Walker still has a solid base to work off of with great quickness and ballhandling. His three-point shot has improved, which is great, but he needs to find a better balance of inside vs outside shots. And it would be great to see him get more comfortable in the offense as a passer, like he did in the last few months of the season.
And perhaps that's what may prove to be the most important part of the Bobcats finding Clifford: stability. Walker's been through three head coaches in three years, which can't be easy to adjust to on a yearly basis with different outlooks on how the team should play. With Clifford clearly at the helm for a while, Walker could be able to find a better equilibrium in his offense that maximizes his skills.
[Statistics help from basketball-reference, of course]