The Charlotte Hornets are 17-14, seemingly destined for their highest win total since Bob Johnson founded the Bobcats in 2004. Leading the Hornets are Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum, both of whom are playing the best basketball of their respective careers.
Check out this chart:
|Points per game||Rebounds per game||Assists per game||True shooting percentage|
|Kemba Walker (2016)||18.5||4.3||5.0||55.1%|
|Kemba Walker (career high before 2016 season)||17.7 ('14)||4.2 ('14)||6.1 ('14)||51.7% ('13)|
|Nicolas Batum (2016)||16.2||6.6||5.1||55.3%|
|Nicolas Batum (career high before 2016 season)||14.3 ('13)||7.5 ('14)||5.1 ('14)||64.6% ('10)|
Unfortunately, the Hornets probably won't get two players into the All-Star Game. In fact, Jeremy Lin currently has more votes than Walker and Batum combined, despite a far smaller role and good-but-not-great play this season. It's highly unlikely that either player is voted in as a starter, which means that the Hornets will depend on the NBA's many coaches to get one of Walker or Batum in.
So who deserves to get in? We asked our staff what they think.
Nicolas Batum. The biggest difference between this year's team and last year's is Charlotte's showing on offense. New personnel and motion offense sets have allowed the Hornets to rise to the eighth place in offensive efficiency (as of December 29) after finishing 28th last season. That's the explanation for the team's above .500 record and why anyone could be selected for the All-Star game in the first place.
In my opinion, Batum is more important in regards to this improvement on offense than Walker is. He's the connector and creator on offense who cares about ball movement and does not let it stagnate. Batum is willing to make the extra pass even when that means passing up a good shot. As a forward, he even surpasses Walker in certain passing categories. 13.5 percent of his passes are assists, free throw assists or secondary assists, per stats.nba.com. Kemba Walker is at 10.3 percent.
(The always driving and probing Jeremy Lin leads the team at 13.7 percent and it negates the possible notion that the point guard's responsibilities, to make passes which start off the team's sets, certainly make this ratio suffer.)
With their boxscore stats being relatively on the same level, I feel that such an explanation is good enough to take Batum over Walker. It's not a dig at Kemba who plays a certain different way, which can bail us out when we're struggling against the Lakers, but I think that Batum makes us better on offense when he connects everyone with passes like this one:
I would send Nicolas Batum to the All-Star game. His addition has been the main reason for the Hornets being as good as they have been this season. Kemba Walker is a favorite amongst the fans but Batum's presence has been what has pushed the Hornets into the playoff picture this year.
Given the fact that he has had some insane games this year statistically speaking, I think that also helps his case. Nobody else on the team has the potential to go out and get a triple double the way that Batum does. On both ends of the floor, he is the team's most versatile player. Without him, the Hornets may have ended up being a disaster this season.
This is a tough question, and I think there’s positives to sending either one to All-Star Weekend. But my vote would go to Kemba Walker, who I think would probably look a little better during the actual All-Star Game. That’s not to say that Batum wouldn’t also look great, but the free-flowing offense and complete lack of defense that happens during the Midseason Classic tends to favor scorers over distributors and facilitators.
Beyond that, I’m worried Batum would be stuck on the bench behind Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, and possibly even DeMar DeRozan, whereas the point guards in the East are a little less deep—there’s John Wall (if he’s even selected, playing for a sub-.500 team and all), Kyle Lowry (who’s great, but doesn’t have the nationwide reputation he deserves), and Reggie Jackson and Isiah Thomas, both of whom are roughly in Kemba’s tier as point guards in the East. Of course, there’s also former MVP Derrick Rose, but he hasn’t made an All-Star Game since before his first injury, and I don’t think that’s going to change this year.
In short: I’d love to have both Kemba and Batum make the All-Star team this year, but if I had to pick one, I’d say Kemba, because I think he’s got a better chance at extended playing time than Batum does.
They're both remarkably similar, statistically speaking. My initial reaction was to go with Batum, almost entirely because of how well he started the season and the contagious hockey assist mentality he brought to the team. In case you’ve forgotten, turn on a random game from last year, watch each offensive possession closely, and time how long it takes for you to place your head in or on the nearest less-than-safe household appliance.
The big difference for Kemba this year has been his improved shooting percentage. Since Al went down the man has been on a tear, averaging more than 21 points per game over the last 10 games at better than 45 percent from the field, while Batum has been hampered by both illness and injury. There’ve also been plenty of games where Kemba has single-handedly carried the team on the offensive end, like Kobe’s final game in Charlotte, when he put down a cool 38.
The traditional stats lean Kemba, the advanced ones that I’m able to understand lean Kemba, and the eye test leans Kemba. He should represent the Hornet’s in Toronto for the 2016 All-Star Game.