Last month's stellar play from Kemba Walker was desperately needed for both the team, and Walker. During the 17 games played in November, Walker averaged only 13.3 points a game, shooting just 36.6 percent. Then came December, and it was as if his poor November shooting had never happened. His numbers rose to 21.7 points a game while shooting 42.5 percent. This was quite the improvement from one month to the next, but was also the same exact trend that Walker's shooting has followed virtually his entire career. Let's look at Walker's career numbers, month by month, excluding October because he's only featured in two career games that month:
Throughout his career, Walker's shooting peaks in the month of December, before falling each month, and slipping well below his career average of 16.5 points a game. Only two months out of the year does he shoot over 40 percent. Breaking down the year-by-year numbers, there aren't any significant differences to Walker's shooting. He shoots best in December, and the numbers dip each month until the end of the season. Considering how unstable the roster has been throughout Walkers career, it's a bit startling that little changed with how he shot the ball over the course of a season. While not the way fans would like, Walker's shooting has, for the most part, remained consistent in regards to how it rises and drops throughout the season.
However, Walker may be finally re-writing the script. Here are his monthly shooting numbers for this season:
While only through seven games, Walker has built on his strong December, rather than regress. When looking over this, the first thing that comes to mind is the absence of another primary scorer. With the team's leading scorer, Al Jefferson, out due to injury, and the team's third leading scorer, Gary Neal, playing as if he's forgotten how to shoot, it's only natural that Walker would have to take and score more points. This is true, except he's doing it at a alarmingly more efficient rate. In December, Walker was averaging 7.5 makes on over 17.7 attempts a game. So far in January, he's averaging 9.6 makes while attempting 21.3 shots a game.
For a player who has never been considered an efficient shooter, these numbers are promising. It would make sense for Walker's field goal percentage to drop as he's asked to take more shots, but it's been the opposite.
So what's different about this season? Comparing Walker's shot charts from January of this year to January of last year reveal little -- he's taking the same kind of shots, from the same spots, as he did this time last year. The only difference? The amount of shots he's taking. In the 10 games he played in January 2014, Walker took a total of 152 shots. Through seven games this January, he's already taken 149. He's taking almost six more shots a game this January versus last, and his shooting percentage is still higher.
It's too simple to suggest all he needed to do was take more shots to shoot better, but that's kind of what's happening right now. However, it's also about growth and player development. Steve Clifford has more than once mentioned how Walker reinvented his game this offseason. This seemed to extend beyond just shooting, but to overall decision making with the ball. The numbers reflect that, even if it took him a month to start seeing the results. The shooting numbers could always drop back down, but on the other hand, we could be looking at a Kemba Walker that is, now in his fifth year in the NBA, maturing into a top half NBA starting point guard.
Walker's strong month hasn't gone un-noticed, he was after all last week's Eastern Conference Player of the Week. However, when looking closer at his shooting numbers, and considering that he's been number one on every team's scouting report the past five weeks, it's remarkable that's he's been able to get better as the season has gone on. If he can maintain his shooting percentages around the 44-45 percent mark, and avoid dropping his points per game below his career average the rest of the season, Walker could finally develop into the efficient scorer many doubted he'd ever become.