Kemba Walker: The Other Rookie PG
In the year of Ricky Rubio and Kyrie Irving, it can be easy to overlook the accomplishments Kemba Walker as he toils in Charlotte. While the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves are exceeding expectations, the Bobcats are a league-worst 4-27.
Playing in media obscurity, Walker owns the third spot on the NBA Rookie Ladder and was recently honored with a selection to the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star weekend.
“I am so happy for him that he made that rookie thing and it just shows me that he has it,” said Bobcats head coach Paul Silas. “He’s going to be good.”
“It’s cool,” said Walker. “It is a good experience. I am excited to know that coaches really pay attention and see that I am trying to do my best. I am just looking forward to the opportunity.”
Despite a few noteworthy contests, Walker found the transition to the NBA game a challenge early on. Coming off the bench in his first 12 games, he averaged 10.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in just over 20 minutes, and had trouble finishing his opportunities.
“He would struggle a little bit early on at the point,” said Silas. “Early on he wasn’t finishing shots going to the hoop.”
“Definitely, it is pretty tough,” said Walker. “Guys are bigger, quicker, you have to learn certain reads, and you have to learn every option in your plays. There are so many aspects of being a point guard at this level.”
Walker got his first start of the season against the small two guard backcourt of the Warriors, and after the rare Bobcats victory, an injury to D.J. Augustin kept Walker in the starting lineup for the next month.
As a starter Walker has averaged 15.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.1 assists while making his defensive presence felt with 1.1 steals and half a block.
“He has great upside,” said Silas. “The thing that is surprising to me is that at his size, he is a heck of a rebounder. He doesn’t give up for anything.
“Kemba just has a lot of toughness about him, mentally and physically. Initially he had to find out about this game, college and the pros are totally different, but now he is really coming around.”
The opportunity to start and play big minutes may have come as a result of the injury to Augustin, but Walker credits Augustin for helping him adjust to the league.
“D.J. is one of the leaders of this team and it’s great to play with him,” said Walker. “He is such a smart basketball player and I am learning so many things from him. While he was out, he was giving me so much information and helping me while I was on the court. I have been taking so much advice from him even while I am playing.”
“He makes it easy,” said Augustin. “He is a good kid who is willing to listen, willing to get better and willing to learn, so with all those things behind him, it feels like he is going to be a great player one day.”
In college, Walker led the Connecticut Huskies to an unexpected conference title and NCAA championship, and his big personality and obvious leadership skills were considered to be at least as important as his basketball talent during the draft process. The Bobcats already have a leader in Augustin however, and rookies can’t always get the attention of veterans.
“Even though I am still a rookie, I can still have a positive attitude, go into a locker room and be myself,” said Walker. “I am a high energy guy. I like to have fun and things like that, especially now with these tough times, it’s the best time to do it. The best time to be a good person is when you are having a rough season.
“You have to get guys to listen to you, especially for me as a rookie. The guys have been nothing but the best for me, ready to listen to what I am saying and giving me a chance to voice my opinion, so it’s been great even though we are not having such a great season. I am still getting the opportunity to learn so many things, so in the future I will be a much better player, and we will be a much better team.”
Over the last five games, Walker has been scoring at a higher pace, increasing his assists and cutting his modest turnover rate in half. Walker is starting to live up to the pre-draft expectation of being the most NBA ready of this year’s rookie point guards.
“He’s learning the game,” said Silas. “He’s learning how he fits. His penetration to the hoop is really good and he’s finishing.
“He understands what is going on a lot better, but again it is probably going to take him this year and maybe next year before he hits where he is going to be. He’s going to be terrific. I really like what we did by drafting him.”
“I am just slowing down, taking my time and being patient, and taking these games as opportunities that are given to me,” explained Walker. “I am just playing hard and working hard, going to the gym and getting shots up and those shots are falling in the game. I am doing my best to get my teammates involved also.”
It can be tough to get noticed as a rookie point guard on the team that scores the fewest points in the NBA and owns the league’s worst record, but Walker is starting to put it all together and show the promise that was expected of the best player from the best team in college last season.