Kemba Walker is a hard worker and a feisty player which helps building the narrative that he’s a very good defender.
That isn’t though necessarily the case and there are certain shortcomings about him on the defensive end that did especially show during the last season.
There will always be the possibility of him being a defensive liability against the wrong match-up. Bigger guys like Kyle Lowry and George Hill successfully attacked Kemba in the post during the season and while you won’t see teams exploring this extensively during the regular season it’s a move an opposing coach would be likely to take in a playoff series. To put it into perspective, players have made 60% (12/20) of their field goals against Walker in the post.
A size advantage isn’t something strictly to be used in the post though. Look at how the rookie Elfrid Payton sensed that his size and the space Walker is giving him in pick-n-rolls can get him a few open looks down the stretch of a comeback Magic victory.
In this regard, a positive for us moving forward with Kemba on his 48-million deal is that Steve Clifford has started to use Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in a wider variety of ways. Push comes to shove, MKG’s showed the ability to stop opposing point guards. If Gerald Henderson is on the roster next season it gives us another wing capable of guarding both 1s and 3s in certain situations. Both of them could render Kemba’s size disadvantage as a non-factor if we put him on the least harmful perimeter player.
What has been frustrating though is Kemba’s lack of attentiveness on the defensive end. Despite the potential of being picked on due to his size, he’s usually alert enough to track his man through off-ball screens or close out on the man with the ball with a sense of urgency.
When he’s not directly involved in the play is when it gets shaky. He’s a frequent victim of opponents going back door on him as a result of his ball-watching habits. Some of these plays are a result of out-of-scheme traps on which Walker gets too jumpy and forgets about his assignment. Most of the time he’s just caught napping.
This could have been the first Charlotte season in some time which I don’t conclude with any sort of mixtapes or compilation videos since I have made writing my number one priority. Well, I acknowledge that I can’t go out that way and compiled some of Kemba Walker’s naps on defense to make a point.
The people whom are denied the gift of the Paul Young song accompanying Walker’s lowlights can either see it at Vimeo or watch the version which has announcer play-calls as the audio track.
Meanwhile on offense Kemba’s season stood out with him recording his third season of shooting under 40% from the field. By doing so he’s on the same pace as Jason Williams and Brandon Jennings and has become the third player in league history to have three such seasons during his first four years as a pro in the 3-point era (nobody has gone 4/4), per Basketball Reference (the filters being used here are >= 10FGAs per game).
If we drop the filter of looking specifically at the first four years of the player’s career, Kemba’s moved in the top20 of all-time (Mookie Blaylock, Jamal Crawford, Jason Kidd, Vernon Maxwell and Nick van Exel are the leaders of this dishonor with 5 such seasons each in their whole careers).
I would give Walker some benefit of the doubt, however. Even Steve Nash would probably hurt his percentages when running our offense. Our current team is likely to suffer a huge amount from game-to-game adjsutments if we entered the playoffs and faced a coaching staff for at least four straight games. Just like the Miami Heat could do during the LeBron era (we went 0-19 against them during this four year period, let that sink in…) whenever they felt like the game is too close, defenses can really amp up their pick-n-roll pressure and thus frustrate our offense.
A lack of shooting on the wings and somewhat ignorable roll men off the screen-and-roll make this is a tedious process for the ball handler. It’s especially noticeable whenever we play teams which have their big either hedging the pick-n-roll or “showing” it, that is coming up to the level of the screen and denying a lane to the basket. Teams like the Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers could flummox our offense with such an approach to guarding pick-n-rolls.
Somebody eventually has to attempt to break that defense down and it’s more often the task Walker has to assume.
As I wrote during the week when Al Jefferson was side-lined with an injury, his effort when playing with a line-up which had Zeller and Biyombo in the front-court was nothing but valiant. You almost felt bad for him and the fact that he can’t really take a possession off with defenses launching all-out pursuits on him in the pick-n-roll and happily ignoring the rest of the line-up.
The feeling that he goes through exhausting amounts of pick-n-rolls also gets backed up by the stats provided by nba.com. Among players who have run at least 200 pick-n-rolls this season, he ranks fourth in pick-n-roll frequency (percentage of times the given player executes a pick-n-roll) behind Reggie Jackson, DJ Augustin (both have though run 230 screen-and-rolls less) and Dennis Schroder. Walker’s placed right in front of Tony Parker and Chris Paul, two players whose team’s system famously has them going through many screens in one possession.
Thus I have no doubt that Walker takes on a role which wouldn’t improve any point guard’s percentages.
What would then be the case against the way of thinking that he is a low-percentage chucker by default? Is there anything you can point at and say that Walker himself is an inefficient shooter?
Well, evidence says that this style of play is the one in which he actually excels.
Two seasons of SportVU data at nba.com say that he’s just as a precise at pull-up looks as he is in catch-and-shoot situations (and he’s bad at both – 34.3% both in pull-ups and catch-and-shoots last season). Based on these two seasons, there’s yet to be a correlation between the amount of dribbles he has to take before a shot and said shot going down. He repeated his 2013-14 performance of taking the most shots after a mammoth 7+ dribbles and it doesn’t really bother his percentages.
For some reason, he shoots 9% better on three-pointers when his closest defender is charted as “very close” (0-2 feet) than on “wide open” (6+ feet) ones. Moreover, during his hot streak in December nearly half of Kemba’s field goal attempts were pull-ups.
All of this tends to point at the belief that Kemba himself feels the most comfortable when taking a large amount of mid-range shots off the dribble. The percentages on them so far have come and gone randomly.
If you’re a believer in history you can also point at the fact that almost all of the names on the aforementioned list of under-40%s were exactly that for their whole career.
Such data would make me say that Kemba simply is the type of player who lives by such inconsistent shooting off the dribble. We just might have to accept (or cherish) the fact that our offense has the next Damon Stoudamire on the roster for 48 million and the following four years.
However, some shooting on the wing should help everybody. We could at least see whether Walker’s percentages stay the same when not being burdened by the wearing task of going through such pick-n-rolls.
It’s hard to separate the negatives pointed out in this column from the fact that he indeed is a tremendous competitor (even if complained a bit too much for my taste this season) and plays his heart out on the court. I would say that his season deserves a “B” despite his naps on defense, bad shooting and missed time due to surgery. But then again I’m the guy who blindly uses ForeignCredits.com to determine my grades.