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2018-19 Player Preview: Kemba Walker

The Hornets All Star point guard will be the engine that makes this team go.

Chicago Bulls v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

After being named the new head coach of the Charlotte Hornets, James Borrego noted that starting point guard was the only rotation spot that was already decided. When Kemba Walker is your starting point guard, that’s a good idea to proclaim. The diminutive UConn product is the only Charlotte All Star since Gerald Wallace, and he’s earned the honor in consecutive seasons, even with the team around him struggling.

Even with a new coaching staff and a new system in place, Walker is going to be the catalyst for any amount of Hornets success this season. He’s averaged over 22 points and 5.5 assists each of the past two seasons while shooting nearly 40% from 3. With Borrego implementing a more uptempo style that puts more emphasis on outside shooting and perimeter play, there’s a very real chance that Walker can improve on those numbers while still having the huge positive impact on overall team play that he’s had for years.

Last season, the Hornets’ net rating with Kemba Walker on the floor was 10.4 points per 100 possessions better than when he when he was off, one of the best marks in the league and 6.1 points better than the next best Hornet. In 2016-17, his on/off rating was +10.1 points per 100 possessions, again one of the better marks in the league.

With a system that should be more in line with the skill sets of Walker’s supporting cast, it wouldn’t be surprising if that number came down. The acquisition of Tony Parker and the departure of Michael Carter-Williams should improve the backup point guard spot, which hopefully means the Hornets won’t tank when their star player needs a breather. That added team success should bring more attention to Kemba’s on court exploits and could very easily result in him being named to his third consecutive All Star team. He’d be only the second Hornet to ever achieve those heights, the first being Glen Rice from 1995 through 1998.

Even with all the optimism that comes with a new coaching staff, front office, and player acquisitions, there’s still one giant black cloud over this upcoming season. Walker is entering the final year of a four year, $48 million contract that has become arguably the best bargain in the NBA. Assuming he continues playing the Kemba Walker we’ve become familiar with, he’ll be in line for something resembling a maximum contract in the summer of 2019. With the Hornets already over the salary cap, that $20+ million annual pay raise will be tough to stomach, but the team has repeatedly said they are committed to Kemba long term, and their star point guard as echoed that sentiment. If the Hornets can climb back into the playoff hunt and make a strong case that this team is on the ascent, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Captain Courageous is not on the Hornets long term and adding to his already impressive array of franchise records.