The Charlotte Bobcats hit a few bumps in the road over the last few years. After complete futility during the 2011-12 season, the Bobcats made strides to become a respectable team last season. There was improvement all-around in the 21-win season, but none more pronounced than that of 23-year-old starting point guard Kemba Walker.
After an underwhelming rookie season, Walker turned heads around the league in 2013 with his dynamic play on both ends of the court; solidifying his place as a franchise cornerstone. Walker captivated fans with his knack for scoring the ball to finish eighth among point guards in scoring at 17.7 points per game. While his percentages of 42.3% from the field and 32.2% from distance still leave something to be desired, they are vastly improved from his rookie season.
Walker silenced critics who said he couldn’t run an NBA offense. Despite Josh McRoberts (9.3 points per game) and Byron Mullens (10.6 points on a terrible 38.5 FG%) being the most viable offensive weapons in the Bobcats frontcourt, Walker averaged just under a half-dozen assists. Walker takes very good care of the ball, as his turnover numbers are surprisingly low. His turnover percentage of 12.4 was second-best among starting point guards. Despite his score-first mentality, his assist percentage is comparable to some of the league’s premier point guards in Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson, and Kyrie Irving.
Before last season, Walker was written off as an undersized combo guard, who would struggle matching up defensively with the tremendous athletes at his position. Instead, Walker’s emerged as one of the league’s better defensive point guards. Walker tripled his steals total from his rookie season and looked a lot more comfortable defensively.
Walker wasn’t elite last season. He’s still learning the nuances of the NBA game while playing for a team that’s won 28 games in the last two seasons. He struggled with his perimeter shooting, which is forgivable for a young player on a team with minimal offensive weapons. He was forced to carry the Bobcats and second-year players aren’t cut out for that. Walker is a fierce competitor who wants to win at all costs.
Reportedly, Walker recruited big man Al Jefferson to the give the Bobcats a 20 point, 10 rebound force to feed in the post. The Bobcats also drafted Cody Zeller, who will be a terrific pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop partner, something else Kemba has not had in Charlotte. Face it, watching Tyrus Thomas or the great Desagana Diop roll to the basket was pretty pathetic.
The additions of Jefferson and Zeller should make things easier for Walker. He can pass more, force less shots, and get better looks at the rim. Defenses didn’t have to particularly focus on Thomas or Bismack Biyombo in the paint and could double-team Walker when he drove into the paint. Now defenses have more than him to worry about. They have to account for Jefferson scoring in the paint and Zeller getting his shots from anywhere out to the three-point line.
Biyombo, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Ramon Sessions and Jeff Taylor are all a year older, more experienced, and hopefully better at finding their spots on the floor. As Walker continues to grow with a much-improved Bobcats roster, look for him to make progress towards becoming an elite point guard.