Let's get something out of the way, right now. Kemba Walker is an All-Star. You can pick and choose who are the best point guards in the Eastern Conference, but Walker has the stats, efficiency and team success to validate the claim that he deserves to head to New Orleans for his first career All-Star Game.
Walker averages more points on fewer shots with more assists than Kyrie Irving, though he doesn't play with LeBron James. He shoots considerably better than John Wall or Isaiah Thomas. Moreover, he is the most valuable player on a team with serious eyes on a top-four seed in the East this year in Charlotte, thanks mostly to his jump offensively. The Hornets are a full 6.0 points better with Walker on the floor than off. The Celtics are 1.7 points worse with Thomas on the floor. The Cavaliers are slightly worse with Irving on the floor. The Wizards are way better with Wall on the court (plus-10) because their bench is a mushroom field of sadness, but regardless, when it comes to teams that are winning, Walker's resume is as good as any player's.
Walker is not willing to campaign to be chosen as an All-Star this season ... but he wants to be an All-Star this season.
"I can't say I don't want it. That's every kid's dream," Walker told CBS Sports earlier this month."But it's not something I think about it every day. It's not up to me. It's up to the fans and the coaches."
All-Star starters will no longer be by fan vote alone. With the new voting format, fans will account for 50 percent of the vote, which means Walker will need support from players and members of the media.
The East Coast Steph
OK, that's a bit of a stretch. After all, Walker is not churning out record seasons and winning unanimous MVP awards. But when you look at what Walker has done with his jump shot this year, you're seeing some of the same kind of effects Curry has in scrambling defenses, given how Walker is shooting off the dribble.
Let's start with two stats.
1. Walker leads the league in points per game derived from the pick and roll as the ball-handler at 12 per game. He's not the most efficient when it comes to the top-tier guys, but he is creating the most points from pick and rolls of any one in the league. And he's doing it because ...
2. Walker is shooting an incredible 39.6 percent off the dribble this season. For comparison, Curry is shooting 35.9 percent off the dribble this season. Curry is having a slow start and shooting less with Durant. The point is not that Walker is as good as Curry but that you can even put the two in the same sentence. That's good for the second-most points per game off the dribble in the NBA, behind only DeMar DeRozan, and Walker is doing so with a much higher effective field goal percentage thanks to those 3s.
Walker's range, off the dribble, has gotten a little bit nuts.
But what's really interesting is how coach Steve Clifford has used the various talents on this particular Hornets team to make Walker such an incredible weapon and what the possibilities are for them to improve.
Adam Mares at Vice first brought this to my attention with his article here. The Hornets use something teams should use a lot more of -- if they have the personnel -- and it puts teams in an absolute nightmarish scenario of having to guard three different moving weapons all at once, with no good answers.
Here's the problem. Walker's defender is caught between a rock and Zeller here. Walker goes left, then fakes back right. So in the video above, Bazemore goes into the Walker screen, turns, and is immediately caught in Zeller's screen. Both are really good screeners, and this matters. They don't slip the screen, they take good angles, and they make the guard feel it when there's contact.
Now, Atlanta dropped both bigs here (as they inexplicably and repeatedly did against Walker, which is suicide), which opens up Walker from range. If they hedge with Zeller's man, Zeller is rolling right to the basket. And watch as the space created from Bazemore trying to get away from the screen pushes Walker's man back. This is the result:
One of Walker's options is expert spot-up shooter Marvin Williams open at the arc. Williams only has 15 pick-and-pop shots this year, but he's automatic with them. The Hornets' variety of specialized offensive weapons gives the defense terrible choices, which is why they often settle for Walker taking shots off the dribble, and it's tearing them to shreds.
Again, watch the options the Pacers have here. Zeller is open if Walker needs to pass back, and facing smaller defenders. Williams is wide open on the perimeter. And Walker scores anyway, because he's added so much comfort and control.
Walker is playing with more control than he ever has in his career. Walker agreed when I asked if, like other guards have told me, it takes up to five years to really learn how to play point guard in the NBA.
"It takes a while," Walker said. "When you come out of college, you're accustomed to one speed. That's how it was for me. Now that I'm just older, and smarter, and been in the league, and really understanding it and understanding the game better."
There's also continuity in Charlotte. This is central to how the Hornets continue to be a good team despite major changes to their bench this summer. The core players have been in the system and played together year over year, with repetition and routine. That helps with establishing how to play together. Often that continuity can trump superior individual talent.
"It's just getting to know the guys better," Walker said. "Being with coach (Clifford) for four years now, for me, I kind of know the system really well. I understand where guys are going to be. I know where guys like to be. It's definitely the continuity for three years now, like Marvin, Cody and (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist), (Nicolas Batum) they're just kind of easy guys to play with. We have great chemistry together."
There's still room for improvement. According to Synergy Sports, the Hornets create the 11th most unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts in the NBA, but are 19th in effective field goal percentage on them. With guys like Nicolas Batum, Frank Kaminsky and even Williams shooting below career averages on those shots, their offense is likely to improve, and in doing so, Walker's assist rate will improve with it.
There are limitations. Get Walker in one-on-one coverage, in isolation, and he's only in the 17th percentile. He needs those screens to create space because of his smaller stature, and in the playoffs, how teams try and defend him will likely involve switches to crowd him, which he'll have to respond by zipping to the rim. Luckily, he's really good at that, too.
Running point for youth sports
Walker's also coming into his own off the court. Walker recently came on board with Dick's Sporting Goods' efforts to help youth sports programs around the country. DICK'S Sporting Goods Foundation has pledged more than $50 million to help raise awareness and provide help on this issue, including cases like this tearjerker video about the 5th Ward Saints:
"I feel like it's important for young kids to have the opportunity to do what they love," Walker said of his involvement. "To do it at a young age, that's where it started for me. I was able to play AAU basketball, go to different cities, travel at a young age. It's kept me out of trouble, it allowed me to go to college for free."
Walker feels youth sports teach things that often times kids wouldn't learn otherwise.
"They can learn how to work hard, how to be on time, teamwork, how to work with other people. Not everyone that's going to play is going to make it to the professional level, but it can help you with other things in life as well. There are so many different things kids can learn playing sports."
There's a lot to learn about these Hornets and Kemba Walker this year as well, including the fact that there's no getting around it or not ...
Whether Walker's name is announced in New Orleans in February or not, he's an All-Star this season.