Key 2015-16 Stats: 35.6 MPG, 20.9 PPG, 5.2 APG, 4.4 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 42.7 FG%, 37.1 3P%, 84.7 FT%
Kemba Walker has had to deal with a lot of questions throughout his career.
Is he tall enough to make it in the NBA? Thanks to his scoring touch, yes.
Is his playmaking ability enough to overcome his score-first mentality? So far, yes.
Entering last season, the big question was could hit threes or increase his shooting efficiency? He answered yes to both, and put together the best season of his career.
So, of course with the 2016-17 season just around the corner, a new question presents itself for the Charlotte Hornets' star: Can he do it again?
First, take a look at just how impressive a jump Walker made last season. Prior to it, he never averaged more than 17.7 points per game and never shot better than 42.3 percent from the floor or 33.3 percent from 3. The questions surrounding his 3-point shooting and shooting efficiency in general were justified, even though those numbers were so low because Walker would time and time again be given the ball late in the shot clock and expected to make something out of nothing.
Last season, Walker set new career-highs in points per game (20.9 -- tied for 16th-best in the NBA with Jimmy Butler), field goal percentage (42.7 percent), 3-point percentage (37.1 percent) and effective field goal percentage (49.5 percent - his previous best was 46.6).
A big reason for the jump was that the Hornets finally found a secondary ballhandler or two who paired well with Walker and took some of the playmaking responsibilities off of him. They tried this a few years ago with Lance Stephenson, and we all know that that failed spectacularly. Last offseason, the team acquired Nicolas Batum, who proved to be everything Stephenson wasn't and took Walker's game to a never-before-seen level.
When Walker was joined on the floor by Batum, he averaged 16.7 points, 4.2 assists and 3.6 boards on 44.3 percent shooting from the floor (41.2 percent from 3). When Batum did not share the court with Walker, the point guard's numbers plummeted: 6.7 points, 1.7 assists, 1.4 rebounds, 39.5 percent from the field and (the kicker here) 28.4 percent from behind the arc.
Another reason for Walker's career season was his finishing touch close to the basket, among all the trees we know as NBA big men. Walker saw a significant jump in his field goal percentage there. In 2014-15, Walker made 48.7 percent of his shots in the restricted area, including 48.2 percent of his shots within five feet of the basket. Last season, that number skyrocketed up to 57 percent in the restricted area and 55.4 percent from within five feet.
It probably also helped that Walker reworked his shot and turned his worst shot - pull-up 3s - into one of the league's best, which aided his career year. One should also keep in mind that Walker reportedly played with an injured knee late in the campaign and was still able to put up impressive numbers, including his 37-point effort - the second-most in Charlotte postseason history - in a Game 6 duel with Dwyane Wade.
This all leads to the big question not just for Walker, but for the future of the Hornets franchise, one that fans have pondered all throughout the summer: can Walker be expected to match, or even succeed those numbers? Walker is just 26 years old and entering his sixth season in the Association, a time when most players just begin to enter the prime of their careers. At the same time, last year was a meteoric jump for the diminutive point guard, and the Association has now had an entire offseason to look at the tape and figure out how best to defend Walker. While expecting an exact repeat from the guard - who has dealt with recovery from the aforementioned knee injury - may be a little too much to ask, his numbers should not drop off all that far either.
If Walker is somehow able to replicate last season's numbers this season and the Hornets continue their winning ways, it would not be surprising to see the guard earn his first All-Star appearance. His numbers last season compared very favorably to Boston's Isaiah Thomas, who himself earned All-Star recognition.
Members of Buzz City should be plenty excited regardless.They have one of the league's most exciting players entering his prime, which should mean plenty more of this throughout the season.