You either believe in Kemba Walker or you don't. In the NBA landscape, it feels like fans and media teeter on a thin line concerning Walker's play. There are many who see his hero ball, chucking style and think he's garbage. Others see his charisma on the floor and are absolutely captivated by the way he plays. The Hornets organization feels the latter as they signed him to an extension prior to last season. That contract extension begins this fall as Walker enters his fifth year in the NBA.
Walker's play sort of mirrored the Hornets team as a whole last season. Walker and the team started slow out of the gates but picked it up when the calendar turned to 2015. From Jan. 3-14, Walker scored at least 28 points in six consecutive games, earning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors on Jan 12. During that week, Walker averaged 30.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and shot 50 percent from the floor. The team went 4-0 that week and posted a record of 10-4 in the month of January. Walker rose to the occasion when teammate Al Jefferson went out with an injury and put the team on his back. Their .714 winning percentage in the month of January was the second best winning percentage in the Eastern Conference that month and the fourth best mark in the league.
With the heavy load Walker was bearing, an injury Walker had played with since his high school days began to flare up. He eventually tore the meniscus in his left knee in late January, an injury that required surgery. Walker missed the longest stretch of his NBA career to date after that surgery, a span of 18 games beginning on Jan. 24 and ending on March 10.
Walker returned for the final 16 games of the season and the team failed to make a playoff push, finishing 4-12 after his return. Walker slowly played back into the starting lineup but his averages and shooting percentages were below what they had been pre-injury.
Walker shot 38.5 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from 3-point land for the season. Of players that took at least 15 shots a game last season, Walker finished with the second worst true shooting percentage. His field goal percentage mark was his lowest since his rookie season and his percentage from deep was a new career low.
Walker played 35 minutes a night and averaged 5.1 assists per game, a measly mark for a starting point guard who plays that many minutes. For the second year in a row however, he had one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the league. He finished sixth with a 3.2-1 ratio.
Despite Charlotte being an above-average defensive club, Kemba offers only effort on that side of the floor. The Hornets defensive rating went from 102.2 to 97.7 last season when Walker left the floor. His knee pain definitely didn't help but Walker was a minus defender in a good system.
Can the man get some help?
In the new shooting, pace-and-space NBA evolution, hero ball is dying. From the courts of New York to UCONN's championship run to Charlotte's dreadful Bobcats teams, Kemba Walker has incorporated a hero ball element into his game and persona.
Walker can develop tunnel vision on possessions and refuse to find his teammates as he fights to create space and get a shot up. Due to the poor rosters he's played on in Charlotte, Walker has struggled to find a consistent balance on the floor. If there's another ball-dominate backcourt player with him, either he or Walker will be nonexistent on the offensive end.
It's not entirely Walker's fault though, he hasn't had help. Charlotte is known for its gamely shot clock violations. When the clock is ticking down, Kemba's usually been the only player on the floor that's capable of creating a shot. Walker's not a great shooter but his numbers have suffered in some part due to the fact that he's always been the best option. He can't be your best option. Kemba Walker needs to be your third or fourth option. He can be your best option on one of those hot nights he brings every now and then.
His help appears to be on its way. The Hornets added players that can space the floor and facilitate the offense Steve Clifford wants to run. They brought in his former UCONN teammate, Jeremy Lamb. They added outside threats in Spencer Hawes and Frank Kaminsky.
Nicolaus Batum may be Kemba's godsend. All of these guys are able to create offense, whether it's with their stroke or the all-around basketball skill they bring to the table.
Kemba will now have Jeremy Lin as a running mate as well. The inevitable Walker-Lin lineups are something I'm excited about. Clifford always hopes to have two pick-and-roll players on the floor at the same time. With two guys that can play in that environment, it can put pressure on the defense when the ball flings from one side to the other.
A healthy Al Jefferson would be a welcomed sight as well. Cody Zeller, Walker's favorite pick-and-roll player, has been tirelessly working on his outside shot. With all his new teammates and a few of his old ones healthy and improved, Walker's assist totals and shooting percentages could climb.
Kemba's been the sole offensive creator and Charlotte's primary perimeter scorer through four seasons. It's safe to say he's been put in tough situations, but help could be on its way.
The person he is
Just before the 2014-15 season began and the Charlotte Hornets made their comeback, the organization inked Walker to a four-year extension.
That decision had a lot to do with basketball but it also had an element of personality to it. The Hornets made the decision largely because of the person Kemba Walker is. Who he is on the court, who he is in the weight room, in the film room, in the locker room, etc.
In competitive environments, Walker is fearless and he leads. That is evident on the floor each and every night. He commands the respect of his peers because he's one of the hardest workers and one of the best competitors in any room he enters.
General manager Rich Cho has been quoted as saying that Walker embodies everything the organization wants in a Charlotte Hornet. He's a terrific teammate and he has a strong work ethic, a professional attitude and a fiery competitive spirit. He's not trying to be anybody he's not, that's just who he is.
The Hornets are wrapping up their highly publicized preseason trip to China but did you know that Kemba Walker has kept a daily diary of their excursion on the Hornets website? Get the scoop on Charlotte's NBA Global Games trip from the star guard's perspective.
Walker should be fully recovered from the knee surgery he underwent last season. The meniscus in his left knee had been causing him problems since high school and he'll tell you the surgery was needed and that he was glad he went through with it.
A healthy Kemba should be able to get more lift on his shots so don't expect the shooting touch he showed at the end of last season. Even when healthy though, Kemba needs to be more efficient with his shots. He's now notorious around the league for his chucking and bad shooting percentages.
Kemba has been working on his shot from deep this offseason and a slight improvement from last year's numbers should be expected.
He's only shot over 40 percent from the field once in his career and it needs to happen again this season. Any criticism of Kemba always comes back to his poor shooting and his poor efficiency numbers.
While he can put up point totals from time-to-time, there is only a little evidence that Walker is a competent NBA scorer. He can create the open look with his mind-splitting crossovers and ridiculous quickness, but until the ball starts dropping regularly, his ability to create for himself is somewhat useless.
The Hornets and Walker take care of the ball, which needs to continue. He doesn't need to work on that though. His shot and his shot selection is what's holding him back from his next jump.
There is no reason for Kemba to take 16 shots a game, as he did last season, with his poor shooting numbers. He likely had to because he was quite possibly the best option on the floor most of the time. This new Hornets team has improved skill, not just shooting but passing, bringing more offensive versatility.
The Hornets should be better with these new additions and Kemba Walker should be better as well.