The Kemba Conundrum

Kamba Walker has taken the world by storm this season and has finally become a household name among the average NBA fan. While Kemba has always been a solid scoring guard, he has blossomed into an All-Star over the past couple of seasons. The diminutive guard out of Bronx is having his best season ever (averaging a career-high 25.8 PPG, 6.2 APG, and 22.9 PER). In his eighth year in the NBA, he is warranting serious All-NBA consideration and is starting to build a great candidacy for a First Team berth. After having a sensational first eight weeks, here is a breakdown of how he is doing.

Kemba has always been an above average player though it is remarkable that he is finally stamping his place in the league at the age of 29. It was not until the 2015-16 season where he scoring prowess came to life and averaged over 20 PPG for the first time. Safe to say that this is a career year for Kemba Walker and the timing could not be better. Every few games, it seems as if Kemba is adding a signature performance to his resume. In their season opener, he had a game-high 41 points. A couple of days later, he had 39 and 7 assists in a road win against Miami. And then came the career-high 60 points against the 76ers before he lead the charge with 43 when a struggling Celtics visited the Spectrum Center. In each of these games, Kemba got hot. HAWT. He was in the zone when his killer instincts kicked it. He stopped thinking and simply decided to play his basketball. It is just a joy to watch when a player is in that form.

Unlike most other stars, Kemba has had to take the long route to get to this point. While was a five-star recruit, he did not go the name brand schools like Duke or Kentucky. At UCONN, Kemba had to earn a starters’ spot and would do so in his sophomore season with the Huskies. His steady rise as a professional can be best embodied in the trend seen in his effective field goal percentage (a counting stat that takes into account made 3-point shot has more value than made 2-point shot). In his rookie season, Kemba had an eFG% of 41.1%. This is steadily increased over the years to a much more respectable 52.7% this season (quite good when compared to other NBA point guards). While the NBA has become a 3-point shooting league, Kemba is still sticking to his strengths in the midrange shooting over 51% from this region – among the very best in basketball. Then comes the signature step back jumper. Deadly and ever-present, it is always a delight to see him throw off the balance of any defender. His small stature also always to him drive and shoot in cramped spaces; a skill only a handful of players can do at an elite level. High volume shooters who can score efficiently off the dribble is like gold in today’s NBA. It is the offensive weapon to have. And Kemba is one of the best.

Be it as a spot up shooter or of is handle, Kemba is approaching the highest echelon status from a scoring perspective. His improvement on his shot mechanics and decision making has made his greatest asset stand out that much more – athleticism. There is no denying it, Kemba Walker is a fantastic athlete. He is ridiculously fast and can change direction in a snap. His body control is exceptional, as is his balance and footwork. While the internet raves about the athletic ability of a Zion Williamson, the status of being an elite athlete has mostly been given to those with greatest leaping ability. An athlete is much more than there vertical jump. Kemba’s quickness has gone under the radar but there is no doubt in my mind that he is truly exceptional.

His size does have some hindrances. It prevents him from the ideal switchable defender despite his tenacious effort on that end of the floor. Steve Clifford and now James Borrego have had to schematically hide him off the ball to allow him to help on the weak side to force turnovers. The Hornets do deserve some credit with their effort to try and surround Kemba with quality defensive players. Nicolas Batum, Miles Bridges, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were all added to try and cover for his decencies (so far, they have all looked better in theory than on the court). Walker is clearly a below the rim player. That being said, his explosive first step and lateral movement have made him nearly unguardable in a one-on-one situation. He does not put his head down and simply charges to the rim like some other athletic point guards. Kemba is much more calculating and decisive. He uses his quickness and ability to change direction in a smart and efficient manner. An athletic basketball player with a high IQ and special awareness make him such a deadly player both on and off the ball.

Currently, the Hornets are 13-13 before their home encounter with the Detroit Pistons. Eleven of their 26 games so far have been decided by five points or less. And in this 11, Charlotte are 3-8. It is safe to say that in the clutch, the Hornets are far from delivering. Borrego has clearly gone into the deep end to acclimate the team to the modern NBA. Fast pace with an emphasis on a volume of attempts from beyond the arc. That being said, besides Kemba, the rest of the roster is below average at playmaking and at getting open looks. The Hornets are among the league leaders in 3-point shots attempted and made though rank near the bottom on assisted 3’s. It is hard to be a good team in the NBA when much of a teams’ 3-point shots are unassisted and therefore result in tough looks. Aside from the fact that Charlotte currently has an offensive rating of 113.2 (5th best in the league), the rest of their major counting stats are mediocre (18th in Opp PTS/G, 12th in Pace, 14th and 14th in Defensive Rating). This clearly explains their 0.500 seasons so far. The worst place for an NBA team to be in is in the doldrums, the middle – neither bad nor good. As things stand, their chances of rising from this position are slim.

The saving grace of any Hornet’s fan is that Kemba has ascended into greatness. Unfortunately, he alone cannot pull this franchise out of mediocrity. The uncertainty regarding a potential trading away of their star player does not help them either given that he will become an unrestricted free agent this coming summer. Despite the career landmarks he is posting this season, it is possible that this could be the end of a very short prime. On a good day, Kemba Walker is 6-1. Just like any of the great score-first guards of a similar size, it is safe to say that he might not age gracefully. Their sheer athleticism sees a sharp decline and they simply are outmuscled out of the floor. The antidote to this problem is for Kemba to become a more diverse offensive player. He has already shown strides in this department averaging a career-high 6.2 APG and attempting the most threes of his NBA tenure. This is well and done though his willingness to adapt to changing physical circumstances will be the biggest test for the New York native. Many a great player before him have struggled to adjust to new roles as they get older. Point guards younger than Kemba will also face a similar dilemma when Father Time knocks on the door.

Trading Kemba will be a disaster for the team though it is the prospect they have to entertain. Leaving over could be just as bad. It is Devil v Deep Sea kind of situation. Both are bad but you definitely know what you will get one while the other is shrouded with mystery. Maybe an amicable departure – through trade or free agency – could be the best option for both parties. Kemba Walker loves Charlotte and has clearly established some roots with both the city and the franchise. He appears to be genuinely grateful for all they have done for him, professional and beyond.

Loyalty is rare in the current sporting landscape. As it stands, a man’s affinity should only be to his best interest. Loyalty is brave but can also be foolhardy. Charlotte is low-key a punchline for NBA mediocrity. Poor drafting and dishing out terrible contracts has defined this franchise. Some it comes from an owner who only watches UNC players or those who play well against his alma mater. Twice have the Hornets made the postseason since Kemba was drafted. And on both occasions, they were summarily dismissed in the first round. They do have a chance to make it back this season. They currently sit in 7th place in the Western Conference. But let that sink in for the second. How proud can someone feel about maybe making the postseason? There is no doubt in my mind that everybody wants to win. Just can they win together, is the question that will surround this franchise for this season, and possibly more to come.

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