Today's Charlotte Hornets game against the Atlanta Hawks will be the last game for the Hornets in the month of February. It will also cap off what has been the best month of Kemba Walker's career. Here are Walker's numbers through eight games this month: 24.1 points, 5.6 assists, 4.6 rebounds, with 45.9 field goal percentage, and a 41.9 3-point percentage.
It's the highest scoring average for a month in Walker's career, and he's doing it at a highly efficient rate. This is the best shooting month percentage wise from Walker since November, when he shot 48.3 percent from the field, and 42.4 percent from 3. The difference? Walker is attempting nearly four more shots per game, and nearly three more 3-pointers. He's attempting more shots this month than he has all season while maintaining shooting percentages well above 40 percent.
Steve Clifford said after last season that Walker would work best as the second or third scoring option on the roster. It made a lot of sense -- Walker's post All-Star break numbers last season weren't good, averaging only 14.3 points per game, shooting just 35.1 percent from the field and 25.7 percent from the 3-point line. Walker had been playing well before he missed all of last February due to injury, and never regained that form. The Hornets were also down a number of key players due to injury, forcing Walker to be the go-to option. Given how much he struggled as the top scoring option, it made sense that the Hornets would look for legitimate scoring options (in this case, Nicolas Batum) to pair next to Walker. As the second, or third option, Walker would shoot less, but more efficiently. That was the idea, anyways.
Except the addition of Batum didn't make Walker a more efficient secondary scoring option, but instead raised his scoring and shooting percentage numbers. Walker's scoring averages have increased every month. He's on pace for his first season averaging at least 20 points a game, and he should finish the season with a shooting percentage above 40 percent, which would be the first time that's happened since the 2012-13 season. Their partnership deserves closer attention, but it's telling that Walker's least efficient month shooting the ball was in January, when Batum missed a number of games due to injury, and Walker shot just 39.3 percent from the field. Despite Batum's up and down season, his inclusion in the lineup has played a role in allowing Walker to thrive as a scorer.
Obviously the biggest difference for Walker not just in February, but all season, has been his improved 3-point shooting. Walker's 37.3 percent from 3 this season is well above his career average of 32.9, and it's helped free up the other parts of his offensive games, particularly attacking the hoop. Walker is shooting 57.8 percent on layups this season. By comparison, that's way up from last season's 50.2. Opponents can no longer run under screens in the pick and roll, and Walker's ability to exploit this came as recently as Friday night during his game winner against the Pacers.
As Ian Mahinmi came over the top on the screen and roll, Walker was able to split both defenders, giving him the driving lane to the hoop. And as we've seen so often this season, Walker was able to finish at the rim over taller defenders.
Walker's February has been the best of month statistically of his career, but his improved scoring averages each month this season suggests February isn't a random stretch of good form that will tail off, but points to Walker's steady development this season that has many continually re-writing their expectations of him.