Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker enjoyed the best season of his career in 2015-16. The point guard averaged a career-best 20.9 points per game, a .427 field goal percentage and a .371 three-point percentage.
Not only did his numbers improve, so did the Hornets’ record. Charlotte finished the regular season 48-34, the best finish of Walker’s five seasons with the franchise. The Hornets also made the playoffs for the second time in that span and finished sixth in the Eastern Conference.
Walker had always provided the team with good scoring numbers, but his efficiency and leadership was the difference last season. The fifth-year guard emerged as a true superstar and the centerpiece for a young roster.
But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Walker has consistently improved as a player since being selected ninth overall in the 2011 NBA Draft. His jump from Year One to Year Two was remarkable and he matched those sophomore stats in the next two seasons leading up to 2015-16.
His assist averages have stayed a full digit above his 4.4 total during his rookie campaign and his shooting percentage never dipped below the .366 from 2011-12, either.
With that trend, it’s easy to assume that Walker will continue to improve in 2016-17. That is a fair assumption, but at 26, he could be reaching the plateau of his career arch.
The upcoming season will be a good indication of where Walker will be as a player during the prime of his career. He’s still young enough to improve, but has the experience of a player in his sixth year.
There won’t be as much upside as there was in his first two seasons. What you see is what you get. Fortunately, Walker has hit his stride and developed into one of the better point guards in the NBA. It’s really all about surrounding him with the right talent.
Charlotte got a huge boost when it acquired Nicolas Batum last offseason. As the team’s second scoring option, Batum recorded 14.9 points per game, 6.1 rebounds and a team-best 5.8 assists.
Pairing the French veteran with Walker helped the Hornets improve their record by 15 wins from 2014-15. That’s why the franchise rewarded Batum with a hefty payday this offseason.
But for Walker to truly flourish, the Hornets need to continue surrounding him with young talent. Re-signing Batum was the team’s biggest move of the offseason. While it was important, Charlotte needs to add some more help beyond Roy Hibbert and Ramon Sessions.
Walker’s assists totals are the only thing keeping him from elite point guard status. But it’s difficult to average more than 5.2 per game when you’re asked to be the primary scoring option on a team lacking shooting help. The Hornets are one piece away from making a leap in the Eastern Conference, which would, in turn, help Walker’s development as well.
Expectations should be high for the former UConn standout in his sixth season. Walker has become one of the league’s best young point guards and should continue to flourish in Charlotte.
Even if he’s reached his plateau as a player, Walker still deserves to be considered among the upper-tier of NBA point guards.