After a strong start to the season, the Hornets hit a rough stretch and have fallen down the standings, all the way to a sub-.500 record. In a season marred by inconsistency and injuries, there has been a lone bright spot that has allowed Charlotte to stay afloat. Kemba Walker has blossomed into a full-fledged star, and he deserves an All-Star bid to reflect his status as one of the league’s best guards.
It’s easier said than done to get Walker a spot in New Orleans, though. The Eastern Conference is absolutely loaded with backcourt talent: just a month out from All-Star Weekend, Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, Isaiah Thomas, Kyle Lowry and John Wall all have a legitimate argument to be selected to the game. Still, even when compared to some of the best players that the league has to offer, Walker stands tall.
Walker was great last year, but a lot of that success was attributed at least in part to the presence of Nicolas Batum. That wasn’t entirely unfair, but things are different this year. Walker has been spectacular this year despite mostly subpar play from his backcourt partner. He’s raised his game to a new level, establishing himself as one of the league’s best guards. He’s efficient on both ends, and at times has been the only thing keeping Charlotte from going into a full-fledged tailspin. It’s too late to get him in as a starter, but the league’s coaches still get to pick the reserves for the roster. Walker’s excellent play (not to mention the “Walker, Charlotte Ranger” campaign) has more than earned him a nod.
The former UConn point guard made a name for himself in the NBA with great offensive play, and he’s been better than ever this year. His 24.4 points per game are a career high and good for 16th in the league. He’s an absolute dynamo in the pick-and-roll, capable of both scoring himself and setting up for his teammates. If he gets to the rim, he’ll find a creative way to finish over a giant — at only 6’1,” Walker scores 1.145 points per possession around the basket, according to Synergy Sports – but he’s even more deadly if he decides to shoot. He’s worked hard on his jumper since entering the league, and it’s paid off. He’s turned himself into a 41.3% shooter from deep, adding another weapon to his already-great offensive arsenal. His pull-up three-pointer is especially deadly — his 4.4 attempts per game are fourth in the league, and he hits them at a higher rate than James Harden, Damian Lillard, and Steph Curry, three of the best shooters in the game.
Batum leads the team in assists, but Walker is both a willing and a capable passer in his own right. He’s great at sliding a pass to a big man rolling into the paint and can find open guys all over the floor. 5.4 assists per game aren't exactly setting the world on fire, but he isn't surrounded by great offensive threats. He does a great job helping his teammates be successful.
Here’s an example of a play Charlotte likes to run that takes advantage of all the ways Walker can hurt a defense. It’s a double high screen for the point guard, with the screens coming from the power forward and center — in this case, Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky.
It forces the defense to pick its poison. If Walker’s defender (in the above clip, Derrick Rose) chooses to go under Zeller’s screen, Walker can pull up for a three-pointer. Instead, Rose tries to fight through Zeller’s screen but gets caught, allowing Walker to go right at a backpedaling Willy Hernangomez. Walker beats Hernangomez for a layup, but he still has options if he can’t get around the big defender. Zeller is running down the lane ready to catch a pass and finish at the rim. The defense can take away that option by sending extra help to cover Zeller, but that presents a whole new problem: either you leave a shooter wide open in the corner or you bring Kaminsky’s defender (above, Kristaps Porzingis) and leave the seven-footer with an open three. Kaminsky hasn’t been lights out from deep this year, but he’s still a threat and it’s undesirable to leave him open.
And though Walker’s known for his offense, he’s turned into a solid defensive player as well. He’ll never be a lockdown defender (especially not if he continues to carry such a heavy offensive load), but he’s a capable piece for Steve Clifford’s ninth-ranked defense. He’s a smart player, so quick on his feet that he forces Clifford not to hide him on a complete non-threat. Occasionally, of course, Walker will have trouble going against bigger or stronger players, but he’s mostly able to hold his own. He also rebounds quite well for a small guard, with 4.2 boards per game.
Kemba Walker has absolutely carried the team on his back at times over the past several months. He’s become one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players and is a capable defender. His hard work and outstanding play deserve to be recognized. Get this man to the All-Star game.