Can Kemba Walker lead the Charlotte Hornets deep into the playoffs?

Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images /

In order for the Charlotte Hornets to make a deep postseason run, Kemba Walker must get his assist numbers up, otherwise the team will face a first round exit.

This offseason the Charlotte Hornets made some pretty good moves this summer, which places them at least in the playoff conversation for the 2017-18 season.

According to David Aldridge’s Offseason Rankings, which compared whether a team got better in the offseason compared to last season, the Hornets ranked in the Middle 10. The middle is a good place to be, showing Charlotte did a fairly good job with their offseason acquisitions like trading for Dwight Howard and drafting Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon.

Charlotte now has the pieces in place to make a serious run at the playoffs. Yet, the only thing that could prevent them from going deep into the postseason is Kemba Walker. As the leader of the team, the Hornets go as Walker goes.

Walker’s assist ratio is significantly low for that of a point guard. Last season he averaged 23.2 points per game, but only 5.5 assists.

Why are Walker’s assist numbers so low?

Walker is not a pass-first point guard. In this league, unless you’re on a team that has a high offensive efficiency, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Golden State Warriors, you must learn to make plays both on and off the ball.

One could also argue that Walker’s low assist rate is low because he didn’t have much help from his teammates, who were unable to finish at the rim.

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Bottom line, if the Hornets want to make a serious playoff push, Walker is going to have to trust his teammates more and get them more involved in the offense.

Unfortunately, both Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Michael Carter-Williams are offensive liabilities. Last season, Kidd-Gilchrist only averaged 9.2 points per game and Carter-Williams, who played with the Bulls last season, averaged a measly sum of 6.6 points and 2.5 assists per game.

As Walker’s backup point guard, Carter-Williams’ numbers show that he’s not yet ready to lead the second unit’s offense.

As Aldridge astutely pointed out in his Offseason Rankings:

"“Not exactly sure, then, how the non-shooting Carter-Williams will fit into that mix effectively at either guard spot, especially when Charlotte already has a guy in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who doesn’t stretch the floor (in this NBA, how is it possible for a starting small forward to only attempt nine — nine — 3-pointers in an entire season?).”"

Hornets’ offensive efficiency must improve

Not to fear Hornets fans, look up into the sky: It’s Superman, a.k.a. Dwight Howard! With the recent addition of Howard, there should be an uptick in Walker’s assist numbers. Not only can Howard make his own plays, but he’s a reliable teammate that Walker can pass to out of pick-and-rolls.

Howard is a beast on the boards, with no signs of slowing down. For his entire 13-year career with the NBA, he has averaged a double-double every single season. Last season on the Hawks, he averaged 13.5 points and 12.7 rebounds per game. With Howard, Walker has finally found his inside man and the Hornets have found their second-best player in their starting lineup.

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Suffice it to say starting power forward Marvin Williams has been carrying his weight. He averaged 11.2 points and 6.2 rebounds last season. While on the other hand, Nicolas Batum has to get his numbers up. The shooting guard is no sharpshooter and only averaged 15.1 points per game. Thankfully, the rookie Malik Monk can shoot lights out, and should pick up any slack during the second unit’s run.

Thus, the weight falls back onto Walker’s shoulders to get his players more involved and have everyone get their scoring up, because Michael Jordan isn’t walking through that door. Otherwise, the Hornets are just going to be a first round wonder.

Walker has to get his assist numbers up, whether that means passing it inside to Howard, or getting the frontcourt more involved with the offense.  Otherwise, as it stands right now, the Hornets will barely clinch a playoff berth.

Hopefully, this offseason everyone is working on their outside shots (excluding Howard) to get their numbers up. Although Walker is an elite point guard who can lead this team to the playoffs, he cannot carry the offense alone during a playoff run.

Next: 2017 NBA free agency tracker - Grades for every deal so far

There is more than enough time for the Hornets to get their offensive efficiency where it ought to be and there’s no reason why Charlotte can’t advance past the first round of the playoffs. As Walker goes, so goes the team.