Yes, it's true, Hornets point guard Kemba Walker is in a contract year. How we got to year four with Walker, I don't know. It feels like just yesterday Walker was the star of those UCONN teams, and now we're already to the point where he's playing for his second contract.
Last season Walker saw his field goal percentage drop below 40 percent once again, but still better than his rookie season. The 2014 season was also the first time in Walker's NBA career that he lost time due to injury-- a rare feat when you consider the rash of injuries that ravages the NBA each year. But other than December and January, Walker was not very efficient last season.
While Walker struggled shooting from just about everywhere on the floor -- something which could be explained as easily as his shots simply wouldn't drop -- he still found other ways to influence games.
Last season, Walker's usage rate remained the same while his turnover percentage dropped and his assist percentage remained the same. So, it's not as if he suddenly forgot how to work offensively; he just couldn't get them to drop as they did the year before. With another year of familiarity with Steve Clifford and a return to perfect health (I mean, he only missed nine games, but that's nine more games than he missed in his first two seasons combined), it stands to reason Walker could return to form as a shooter, if not improve.
At just 6'1, Walker isn't gifted with a ton of physical to be a great defender. Guys will just tend to be bigger than him. Last season, either Clifford found a way to hide Walker better; Walker improved; or both. Walker tripled his 2013 Defensive Win Shares, going from 1.1 to 3.3. Even his Defensive Rating jumped from 111 to 105 from year two to year three. Whether that improvement is attributed to Walker himself or Clifford's system is kind of irrelevant if it still makes the team better. Hopefully a fully healthy Walker will only be able to make further use of his quickness to improve further as a defender.
The preseason, while not the best barometer for projecting a player's season, gave some encouragement.
Walker fought through a minor injury to put forth a strong campaign. He averaged 13.3 points, 5.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game on 43.8 percent shooting. Now, Walker may not have been going against NBA players at all times, and we are talking about a six game sample, but he still played well. And you want to see superior players rise above inferior ones whenever they matchup.
Ranking second in scoring, first in assists and sixth in rebounds, Walker has had an excellent preseason. It's also hard to be mad at that 94.4 percent free throw percentage.
Hornets fans will be hoping that they see more of the Walker we saw this preseason instead of the one we saw in the second half of last season. It's a big season for the team, it's fans and Walker, so there will be much expected of their starting point guard. Should Walker continue to do the things he has done well while bringing his efficiency back up, Charlotte will be much better for it. And with the conference and division so wide open, there could be a better time for the Hornets to be in this position, but part of that rides on Walker.