Kemba Better than Kyrie? No, Seriously

The Kemba Walker great player on the rise identity has continued to dig deeper into the NBA fertile ground of young players establishing themselves as All-Stars. Kemba has turned a corner. He has arrived. No longer can anyone say last year was a fluke. This year Kemba is a 24.3 point, 5.5 assist, 49.0% shooting and 48.7% from three player. He had 24 points and 10 assists against the Pacers in a blowout win. He had 29 points against the Celtics in a tough loss. He had 30 points against Brooklyn in a 4 point win. His offensive rating is a whopping 119, seven points higher than last year. His defense rating is 99. Last year it was 105. Kemba is better.

The Hornets are establishing consistency with Walker as their undisputed leader.  They have the second  best record in the East and are the class of their division. A top-4 seed is not out of reach.

It seems like yesterday when Kemba Walker was the Final Four Most Outstanding Player. He won the Bob Cousy Award that year for the best point guard in the country. He was a first team All-American. His performance vaulted him into the lottery in that year’s draft, the 9th pick, selected by Michael Jordan. That was all there was to say about Kemba Walker for four years, nostalgia about what he did at UConn in the Final Four. Perhaps, his best days were as a college player.

He struggled to score. His rookie year his 36.6% was dismal. He rebounded the next year to crack the low ’40’s but then reverted back to norm for two seasons.  At 6-1, he’s one of the smallest point guards in the league and he has to make it work for him in two ways, his quickness to the rim and his perimeter jumper. That jumper is going in at a consistently high rate for one reason. He has confidence.

“The league is pretty much about shooting percentages. So I knew that in order to be better, I had to shoot better. In order to gain respect, not letting guys go under screens, I had to make shots. So that’s what I did this summer. It shows that hard work pays off. ” (Kemba Walker during the 2015-16 season.)

 

Better Than Last Year Kemba Points FG% 3-Point % Contested Shots % Win %
2015-16 21.5 42.7 37.1 43.8% 58%
2016-17 24.3 49.0% 48.7% 50.0% 83%

Kemba may not be the MVP of the league, but he is the MVP of the Hornets team. But it’s even more than that. Something about Kemba just feels different and you can trace it to confidence. When a player knows that every night he takes the court he can score whenever he feels like it, on whoever is guarding him, he plays with a different level of swag.

These days when Kemba Walker’s name is in the conversation, no one is talking about his UConn heroics. It is all about the Hornets and the fact that they have a chance to be playoff contenders.

In a perfect world, a lottery pick is supposed to get you into the playoffs. In a perfect world, a lottery pick is supposed to be the face of the franchise. In a perfect world, a lottery pick is supposed to have the work ethic to improve year in and year out. A lottery pick is supposed to be an All-Star.

Kemba vs. Kyrie (Year Six) 2011 Draft Points 3-Point % Contested Shots % PER
Kyrie Irving, 2016-17 #1 23.0 43.9% 41.4% 18.3
Kemba Walker, 2016-17 #9 24.3 48.7% 50.0% 23.4

Six years in, Kemba has checked all of the boxes. His early start has been as good or better than Kyrie Irving’s, who was selected 8 slots in front of Kemba. Kemba’s Offensive and Defensive Rating is 119 and 99. Kyrie’s is 107 and 110.

2016-17 Offensive Rating Defensive Rating
Kyrie Irving, Cavs 107 110
Kemba Walker, Hornets 119 99

Kemba and Kyrie may meet up in the third round of the playoffs, and if that happens, it will be more karma. It was Kemba’s boss, M.J., who broke the Cavs collective hearts in the playoffs of 1989.

But that is too much forward thinking for a young team like the Hornets. It’s all about today, not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Kemba takes comfort in the calming influence of Michael Jordan’s presence in his life.

“We have a really good relationship. He talks to me a lot. He’s my boss. And he’s one of the better bosses because he’s played the game and understands what we go through on a daily basis. So he helps me a lot. He knows when I need to be spoken to and knows when I’m not playing to the best of my ability. He just always knows the right things to say to me. He always gets me back to being me.” (Kemba Walker to Sporting News)

Being Kemba is pretty damned good right about now. It’s almost perfect.

 

photo via llananba