The Charlotte Hornets (formerly known as the Bobcats), made a very noteworthy jump into the NBA limelight. Although the defending champion Miami Heat swept them in the first round of the post season, their playoff appearance was a delightful surprise and proof that this team has great things in store.
At the forefront of their charge for at least the next two-seasons is Kemba Walker. His 2013-14 campaign was impressive to say the least. 17.7 points, four rebounds and six assists is nothing to smirk at – even in the Eastern Conference. For a player soon to enter his fourth year of professional basketball, it’s encouraging for the Hornets franchise and its fans.
But with statistics similar to his sophomore campaign, it’s hard to imagine in what areas Kemba Walker can get better – alone. If you want to nitpick Walker, his shooting is a candidate for improvement. Walker only shoots better than 40 percent on three areas of the floor (beneath the rim, free-throw line extended and the left corner). However his ability for driving the lane and getting to the basket overshadows his shooting. He’s also an 81 percent free throw shooter, so he’s converting those trips to the line as well.
Kemba’s poised to be a double-double machine. He’s averaged one more assist per season since his rookie year, and it’s due to him being surrounded by talented players. The addition of Al Jefferson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gerald Henderson, and Chris Douglas-Roberts have aided in Walker’s growth. With close to $19.5 million in cap space this summer, the Hornets will be careful in selecting the next big piece in their franchise.
Names that have been linked to the Hornets free agent agenda are Luol Deng, Lance Stephenson, Greg Monroe, and Trevor Ariza to name a few. Undoubtedly any of these players will provide an extra punch on offense and help bolster an already stingy defense.
However to maximize Kemba Walker’s potential, the Hornets front office needs to select a big man to play alongside Al Jefferson. While the Hornets wait for Kidd-Gilchrist’s offensive game to come around, Gerald Henderson is more than serviceable at the small guard and both serve as great second and third options on offense after Walker.
His assist rate is key. Kemba’s shown the ability to be brilliant distributing the ball. For a player who was a hybrid small-guard/point guard entering the league, the transition to full-time point has been relatively easy. For this reason, it’s imperative the Hornets give him space to operate on the perimeter. Playing to Kemba’s strengths will be key. Coach Steve Clifford and general manager Rich Cho, will be tempted to bring in a big name guard or small forward to compliment Walker, but the Hornets best bet is to let Kemba flourish as a ball-dominant guard with two big men down low.
Pushing Walker’s assists per contest is the next evolution in his game. Pairing him with a versatile big man down low that can set high screens and be a threat to shoot the ball will open up Walker’s game tremendously. Adding unrestricted free agents like Greg Monroe Marcin Gortat, Andray Blatche, Patrick Patterson, or over-sized small forwards who can play with their back to the basket like Deng or Stephenson will open the floor for Walker and allow him to operate on an All-Star level.
It’ll be his season to thrive or fall off, and all signs point to Kemba Walker thriving for the Charlotte Hornets. He’s proved himself to be a solid point guard and team leader. It’s time for Cho, Clifford and Michael Jordan to surround him with the pieces necessary to take his game and team to the next level.