Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
Kemba Walker took the next step in his career last year, averaging a career-high 20.9 points while also having his most efficient year with a 55.4 true shooting percentage.
The restructured Charlotte Hornets’ offense helped him find his stride. Spreading more shooters around him and playing in a pace-and-space offense opened up things for Walker to work his magic off the bounce, and he established himself as one of the league’s better point guards.
Walker’s ceiling is an All-Star, though it’s limited, to a degree, by the players around him. While he does some things very well, he needs the right players around him to be at his most effective. For example, his true shooting percentage dropped from 57.5 percent when he played with Nicolas Batum to 51.5 percent when he played without his cohort. Walker can lead the Hornets if they stay healthy and in contention, but he can’t carry a team by himself.
Whenever someone comes off a career year, the big question regarding them is whether that was actual improvement or sustainable. Walker’s Player Efficiency Rating jumped from 17.6 to 20.8 last season, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
There’s a perspective on this that says Walker was just in the perfect scenario for him, and that it will be hard for him to sustain that for another year, particularly with key roster changes such as the loss of Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson.
Walker is the catalyst of the offense, and I mean that in the science-y form of the word. In essence, he’s the “yeast” and his teammates are the “hydrogen peroxide,” and when you add him to them, everyone becomes more explosive:
Walker is a two-way threat to score. He can drill the ball with consistency on the catch-and-shoot, where he had an effective field goal percentage of 64.9, which was seventh-best among players who attempted at least 2.5 such shots per game, according to SportVU tracking data.
But the bulk of his work was done on pull-up jumpers, which accounted for 50 percent of his attempts. While he’s not nearly as efficient on such shots, he’s good enough, and a willing enough passer (13.1 points created by assist per game, per SportVU) that he kept the offense moving.
Walker received 78.6 passes per game, second only to John Wall, per SportVU. The Hornets’ offense was nearly five points per 100 possessions worse when he grabbed pine, per NBA.com. He made the whole thing go, even if his numbers weren’t as spectacular as some of the other point guards in the league.
Walker’s defense isn’t good enough to qualify him as a “two-way” player by any stretch, but he’s not a complete liability on that end. His -0.35 Defensive Real Plus-Minus is 22nd out of 81 point guards, a decent enough showing. He yielded .80 points per possession guarding the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, which was good for the 55.2 percentile and accounted for nearly half of his defensive plays, per Synergy stats at NBA.com.
Walker seems to have a reputation as a bad or indifferent defender. He’s certainly not a special one, but he is competent enough to not have to be completely hidden. With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist coming back and sharing the wing responsibilities with Batum, Walker is good enough to not hurt the Hornets when the other team has the ball.