Kemba Walker’s All-Star Snub Tough But Justifiable

Jan 15, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) against the New Orleans Pelicans during the third quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Hornets 109-107 Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 15, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) against the New Orleans Pelicans during the third quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Hornets 109-107 Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite having a career season, Kemba Walker will not be going to the 2016 All-Star Game in Toronto, an unfortunate but fair reality.

From the start, it seemed that Kemba Walker just wasn’t destined to be an All-Star this year.

The Charlotte Hornets‘ point guard wasn’t expected to be crowned a starter — his reputation as a chucker and the small size of Charlotte’s market (compared to the rest of the league) all but guaranteed that. Walker, in fact, wasn’t even in the top-10 in voting among the Eastern Conference backcourt players.

But then again, few predicted he would’ve been. Household names dominate fan voting, as evidenced by the absurd totals for the likes of Jeremy Lin (195,920), Derrick Rose (302,389), and Kyrie Irving (580,651) — who not only missed the first two months of the season, but still isn’t even playing at an All-Star level.

So, again, Walker couldn’t have been expected to edge out the fan favorites. Thus, finding his way into the game as one of the reserves, who are voted in by coaches rather than fans, seemed like his best shot.

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After all, he had answered much of the criticism that had followed him over the course of his four-year career. Always dubbed a volume scorer, Walker has rectified his decision making issues this season and scored with unprecedented efficiency and purpose. To date, the speedy point guard is averaging 20.3 points per game on 42.6 percent shooting from the field, both career-high marks.

Despite his Charlotte Hornets team finding themselves seriously undermanned on most nights due to a litany injuries, Walker has near-single-handedly powered his club to a 22-25 record. The mark by itself isn’t great, but the Eastern Conference is unusually deep this year, and Charlotte has played most of the season missing two, and in some cases three starters.

He has won Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors, he’s had seven 30-plus-point games already, and of course, he’s joined the elite 50-point club, after going for 52 against the Utah Jazz on Jan. 18.

Yet, somehow, Kemba Walker will not be traveling Toronto next month.

Unfortunately, this is the harsh reality of being a star point guard in today’s NBA. The position is by far the deepest in the association. With such a remarkable talent pool, it’s tough to appreciate the individual greatness of some of these guys.

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Former Hornets guard credits Kemba Walker for 'switch flicking'
Former Hornets guard credits Kemba Walker for 'switch flicking' /

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  • Consider this: Detroit’s Reggie Jackson, who is averaging 22.4 points and 7.5 assists per 36 minutes (Walker’s average) this year on 43.9 and 36.2 percent from the field and three-point line, respectively, didn’t get selected either. His team is also 25-22, seventh in the East.

    The backcourt reserves for the Eastern Conference — John Wall, DeMar DeRozan, Jimmy Butler, and Isaiah Thomas — are all putting together stellar seasons. It would be tough to argue for Walker over Butler or DeRozan, both of whom are playing at superstar levels while leading their respective teams to top-three seeds in the Conference. Wall and Thomas, on the other hand, are playing well, but neither is head-and-shoulders above Walker.

    In classic John Wall fashion, the Wizards’ star has quietly averaged 19.5 points and 9.8 assists per game this season. In terms of pure skill, Walker is the better scorer of the two, but Wall’s playmaking ability is likely what allowed him to edge out Walker for the All-Star nod. Wall assists on a whopping 44.3 percent of the Wizards’ field goals, compared to just 25.4 percent for Walker and his Hornets squad.

    But in facets other than playmaking, Wall’s and Walker’s stats are almost identical across the board, as we can see here:

    1Kemba Walker2015-162547168120.8.542.302.3172.410.76.525.52.61.410.526.4
    2John Wall2015-162544157419.8.511.245.2632.111.66.746.12.91.718.529.0

    Provided by View Original Table
    Generated 1/30/2016.

    It’s worth nothing that Walker’s true shooting percentage is better than Wall’s, as is his defensive rating. Still, Walker’s edge in these areas is marginal, thus, the playmaking is the deciding factor that really sets the two of them apart.

    Wall is someone who can dominate the game in multiple ways; when has an off shooting night, he doesn’t continue to force up shots until he finds his groove; he gets his teammates involved first. Wall has shot lower than 40 percent from the field in 20 games this year. In 11 of those contests, he’s notched at least 10 assists.

    Walker has 22 games shooting under 40 percent. He hasn’t logged double-digit assists in a single one.

    Diversity is a much-sought-after trait in today’s NBA, especially among point guards. Wall ranks among the league’s elite — Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and Chris Paul — as an all-around floor general, and for this reason, he is more deserving of the All-Star nod than Walker, though it still is close.

    Though I do believe Walker is more skilled than the East’s second reserve point guard, Isaiah Thomas, the Boston Celtics’ sixth-man-turned starter has been much more effective this season, as has his team.

    Thomas came to the Boston in a last-minute deal before the 2015 trade deadline, and immediately gave the team a much-needed scoring punch that has since helped to transform the squad into a legit playoff team in the East.

    Thomas has always been the type to put up high scoring numbers with low minute totals, and such has been the case this year as well. The bite-sized guard is putting up 21.5 points and 6.7 assists in just 32.3 minutes per game, which translates to 24.0 points and 7.4 dimes per 36.

    While Thomas’ efficiency is pretty much on-par with Walkers, the former has actually been a far more consistent scorer this year, which is interesting for someone who was used as a “spark plug” scorer off the bench for most of his career. Thomas has registered 31 games scoring 20 or more this season; Walker’s number is 20.

    Thomas is also considerably better at getting to the free throw line when he does choose to get into the lane. He’s attempted more than 10 free throws nine times this year, as compared to just five of those games for Walker, who — once again — averages more minutes per game.

    1Isaiah Thomas2015-162648154821.5.560.352.3821.77.94.734.
    2Kemba Walker2015-162547168120.8.542.302.3172.410.76.525.52.61.410.526.4

    Provided by View Original Table
    Generated 1/30/2016.

    As far as advanced statistics go, the two are on-par in most areas. Strangely, the 5-foot-9 Thomas sports a better defensive rating than does Walker, which is perhaps even more impressive when considering teams often attempt to exploit Thomas in one-on-one situations with larger guards.

    In defense of Walker, the pace statistic is important here. Boston is a team that loves to get out and run, and Thomas is often the guy leading those fast breaks. As one of the — if not the — fastest guards in the league, Thomas is hard to contain in these situations. He’s fourth in total transition plays this year, and fast breaks comprise nearly a fourth of his total offense, nearly double Walker’s mark of 12.5 percent.

    Still, when it comes down to it, Thomas, like Wall, has simply done more for his squad. The Celtics have won eight of their last 10 games, and Thomas — who has averaged 21.5 points on 44.2 percent shooting during that span — is at the center of it all. So maybe, then, it was the Hornets’ relative lack of success that was the deciding factor between these two.

    Jan 9, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) reacts in the second half of the game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center. Clippers won 97-83. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
    Jan 9, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) reacts in the second half of the game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center. Clippers won 97-83. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

    It’s the Golden Age of NBA point guards, and unfortunately, this makes it difficult to fully appreciate the skill level of someone like Walker, who — while undoubtedly talented — is outshined by some of his talented peers. This shouldn’t discourage Walker, of course, as he’s still putting together an excellent season, but maybe it can help him to better understand where he can still improve.

    At the end of the day, Walker needs to be doing whatever it takes for his team to win. If he’s able to become the well-rounded point man that Hornets fans hope he can be, maybe we’ll be talking about MVP awards down the road, rather than just All-Star appearances.

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    He’s got a long way to go before we reach that point though. So for now, Kemba Walker has got to just take the frustration, anger, and any other emotions he may be feeling after this disappointing snub, and channel it to improve his all-around game.