When it comes to NBA All-Star snubs, there is one name that immediately comes to the mind of most basketball fans: Damian Lillard, and for good reason. Lillard has been playing great basketball, and even wrote a song about missing out on the All-Star Game yet again.
But another name that should be right up there with Lillard's is Kemba Walker. Walker is having a career season, one even worthy of Most Improved Player consideration, yet Walker remains in the shadows of the national picture. This is a shame, because basketball fans are missing out on the evolution of a very good guard. Walker has gone from a slashing point guard with limited range to one of the more difficult defensive assignments in the Association with his speed, handles and improved range — the same combination that made Zach Lowe name Walker at the top of his "most watchable" rankings on Tuesday.
On the season, Kemba Walker is averaging 21.2 points, 5.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the floor, 37.8 percent from 3 and 84.5 percent from the free throw line. He is on pace for career highs in every one of those stats except for assists, and his current true shooting percentage of 55.3% would also be a career high. His 21.2 points per game ranks eighth in the Eastern Conference and 17th in the NBA.
His stats are comparable to almost every guard who made the All-Star Game this season, yet Walker did not seem to get much consideration for a spot on the roster. Walker insists he is not angry over the snub. He told David Aldridge the following in an article posted on Monday:
"It's whatever to me. It doesn't really matter, no big deal. I know I've been playing great. I just want to continue to play well, just try to make the playoffs. For me, (the All-Star team is) all about notoriety, it's all about popularity. I'm not as popular as the other guys. It's whatever. If we make the playoffs, hopefully the world will see what we've been doing out here in Charlotte, and the way I've been playing."
The stats could argue otherwise, though.
Before the All-Star break, Kemba Walker was averaging 20.5 points, 5 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game with a true shooting percentage of 54%. Since the All-Star break, Walker is averaging 25.2 points, 6.1 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game with a true shooting percentage of 62.8%. He is one of two players in the NBA averaging at least 25 points and six assists per game while shooting at least 49 percent from the field since then. The other is All-Star Kyle Lowry.
Walker's 25.2 points per game since the All-Star break is the second-highest in the Eastern Conference and ninth-highest in the Association.
Since January 28 — the day the All-Star rosters were announced in their entirety, Walker has been averaging 23.4 points, 5.8 assists and 5 rebounds per game with a shooting line of 44.7/40.5/80.9. Those 23.4 points are fifth-highest in the East and 15th in the NBA over that time frame.
Then there is the recent roll that Walker is on. In the month of March, his numbers are flat out ridiculous. He is averaging 30.8 points, 6.8 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting 54.1 percent from the floor, 51.7 percent from 3 and 82.4 from the charity stripe. His true shooting percentage sits at an absurd 69.1 percent. Those 30.8 PPG are the fourth-highest in the NBA.
But why has Walker played so much better? It all goes back to his improved 3-point shot. Coming into this season, Walker had never shot better than 33.3 percent from deep. Now, his deep shot has become arguably his biggest weapon. Walker's rise in play and points since the All-Star break has coincided with a rise in 3-pointers. On the season, 33.1 percent of Walker's shots have been 3s, which have accounted for 29.7 percent of his total points. Since the All-Star break though, 43.3 percent of Walker's shots have come from deep and have accounted for 38.3 percent of his total points.
His shooting efficiency has improved as well. Below is his shot chart for the season.
Now, here is his shot chart since the All-Star break.
Walker has become a better shooter from almost everywhere on the floor.
Let's start with shots right at the basket. On the season, Walker is making 55.5 percent of his shots within five feet of the basket and has had 53 of his shots blocked. Since returning from the All-Star break, Walker has been making 63.2 percent of his shots within five feet of the basket, and has only had 3 shots blocked over that time frame.
Next, look at shots from 16 to 24 feet from the hoop, because this is where the numbers really start to improve. On the season, Walker has been making 37.2 percent of his shots from this distance. Since the All-Star break though, he has been making 50 percent of those shots.
Then, there are the shots from more than 24 feet out, better known as 3-point shots. Walker has been making 37.8 percent of his shots from deep (as previously mentioned) with an effective field goal percentage of 56.8 percent on the season, but he has been making 42.6 percent of his 3s with an eFG% of 64 percent since the All-Star break.
Long story short, since the All-Star break, Kemba Walker has been REALLY good.
Perhaps he has indeed been motivated by the All-Star snub. Perhaps all the work with shooting coach Bruce Kreutzer is now paying off. Whatever the reason, Walker and the Charlotte Hornets are in the best position they have been in in years and are in a striking position for a top 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. With a strong enough run to end the season and get in the playoffs, maybe Walker will finally get the All-Star recognition he deserves.
But it might be better for the Hornets if he didn't.