When Kemba Walker received a four year, $48 million dollar extension from the Charlotte Hornets this offseason, most fans and analysts considered it a fair contract. With the rising salary cap rising due to an influx of television contract revenue, the average price for a starting player should wind up around $10 to $14 million.
After a season of ups and downs, Walker again finished the season shooting below 40 percent from the field, a mark widely used to judge efficient or inefficient guards. Both coach Steve Clifford and general manager Rich Cho spoke to the need for Walker to improve his 3-point shooting (30.4 percent for the 2014-15 season). Unfortunately for Walker, there is little history of a player his size making such a drastic improvement.
Small guards with shooting problems
According to Basketball-Reference, since 1990 only 27 players standing 6'1" or shorter have shot 33 percent or worse from 3-point range in their first four years in the league (200 game minimum). The most successful guy on the list is likely Allen Iverson, who won a Most Valuable Player award and basically took a team to the NBA Finals all by himself. Other notable names include Rajon Rondo, Mookie Blaylock, Kenny Anderson, Eric Bledsoe, and Raymond Felton (who shot 31 percent on 3.1 long range attempts per game for the Charlotte Bobcats).
This list serves as a baseline for players that share Kemba Walker's lack of size and inefficient 3-point shooting. Now being small doesn't mean you can't be a great shooter, on the contrary some of the best range shooters in the NBA are about Walker's size (North Carolina native Chris Paul comes to mind). However, how many players his size came into the league, shot inefficiently, and still managed to improve?
Getting better seems to be the exception
Out of the 27 players who started their career shooting less than 33 percent from distance, only seven went on to shoot above 35.5 percent for the rest of their careers, which had to span at least an additional 200 games. Those players were Dee Brown, Greg Anthony, Terrell Brandon, Kyle Lowry, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Bobby Jackson, and John Crotty. The group shares three All Star appearances between them (two for Terrell Brandon and one for Kyle Lowry). Only one of these players averaged over four 3-point attempts per game in the latter part of their career, Kyle Lowry.
In Walker's first four years in the league, he averaged 4.1 3-point attempts per game at a 31.8 percent rate. Only two other players from the original list of 27 shot more: Allen Iverson and Jason Williams. 22 of the players shot less than two attempts per game. The point? Most players know what shots not to take.
Maybe less is more
It's easy to debate the amount of shooting Kemba Walker does. Does his supporting cast (or lack thereof) increase his need to score, even inefficiently? Does the system rely too heavily on point guard scoring? Does the coach encourage or enable Walker's shot selection?
However, at the end of the day, it's totally up to Walker how he wants to play the game of basketball. He has the speed, handle and quickness to get wherever he wants on the floor, which usually means he can pick and choose his shots. Although in different systems and with different strengths, Walker might be better off taking a lesson from Tony Parker.
|Years 2 through 4|
|Tony Parker||Kemba Walker|
|Field Goal Attempts||13.1||15.5|
|3-point Field Goal Attempts||2.5||4.3|
|Free Throw Attempts||3.7||4.6|
The beginning of Parker and Walker's careers are very similar. They were both inefficient from 3-point range and they both scored more than they assisted. The biggest differences were: system, interior scoring ability, and shot selection. Two of those things are out of Walker's control. To steal a quote from the immortal John Fox, the system "is what it is". Also, the crafty play of Parker inside isn't something that can just be developed overnight. He's always had it, which is proven by his 64.6 percent, 63.9 percent, and 64.7 percent field goal percentages within three feet in years two through four (compared to .547, .514, and .492 for Walker). The one thing Parker did do was limit his 3-point field goal attempts.
In his early years, Parker took two and a half 3-point attempts per game, and shot 31.3 percent, even worse than Walker. The difference, Walker took two more 3-pointers per game. Again, this could be a requirement of the in-and-out offensive system employed by the Hornets. However, at the end of the day, Walker is pulling the trigger.
As if Parker had an epiphany, or he finally got tired of being screamed at by coach Greg Popovich, he stopped shooting 3-pointers. The following are his 3-point attempts per game from year five through eleven: 0.5, 0.5, 0.5, 1, 0.9, 0.6, 0.9. Is it coincidence that his first All Star appearance was in his fifth year, when his 3-point attempts dropped from 2.0 to 0.5 per game? Probably, but it's a telling statistic.
Good offensive players all have one thing in common: efficiency. If Walker wants to join that fraternity, he needs to either hire the world's best shooting coach, or start passing up shots which have proven to be historically bad.