The Charlotte Bobcats were in need of a franchise player when they drafted Kemba Walker ninth overall in the 2011 NBA draft, but they didn’t experience the immediate revival of hope that currently permeates cities like Portland and New Orleans where fresh draft picks are proving to be the difference between winning and losing.
Instead, the Bobcats experienced the worst campaign of any team in NBA history, finishing with a record of 7-59 in last year’s lockout shortened season. Pinning the blame on Walker, however, would be like blaming a band-aid for a bleeding cut. Aside from the fact that he started a mere 25 games in his debut season, the team finished 14 games below .500 the year before his arrival and has made lottery selections in the draft eight times since their inception in 2004. To say Charlotte hasn’t known much about winning ways throughout the Bobcats tenure as the basketball brand of the Queen City would be a gross understatement.
In the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery, Charlotte missed out on the first pick to New Orleans. Instead of a potential superstar in Anthony Davis, the Bobcats landed Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a promising talent with enough defensive grit to make an impact, but not the scoring presence to help turn the franchise around immediately.
The Bobcats hope instead reverts back to Walker, an extremely athletic point guard capable of exploding to the basket and finishing in tough spots. There is just one problem, Walker doesn’t possess two necessary skills to thrive as a point guard in the NBA.
There is no more crucial aspect of the NBA brand of basketball for a point guard to grasp and adapt to than the pick and roll. Portland’s Damien Lillard comes into the league after a successful college career centered around using the pick and roll, but Walker never adapted to it fully in college at UCONN and hasn’t been able to pick up on it in the NBA either.
With forwards and centers like Byron Mullens, Bismack Biyombo, Tyrus Thomas and Brendan Haywood, Walker has no shortage of big bodies to have rolling to the basket or to use as multiple screeners to weave in and out of on his own path to the hoop, but he needs to be able to run a number of pick and roll based options if the Bobcats are going to improve on an offense that was the worst in the league last season.
If Walker can figure out how to use the league’s most popular play to not only create baskets for himself and his big men, but also know when dish it out to the perimeter to Gerald Henderson or Kidd-Gilchrist, the Bobcats could be a lot more dangerous than the doormat team they were last year with D.J. Augustin at the helm.
The development of his passing around the pick and roll is just one facet of Walker’s game that needs drastic improvement. Last season, the former Huskies star shot 36% from the field and an abysmal 30% from three point range. If he’s going to make the offense click and Charlotte’s pick and roll plays amount to anything, he has to be able to knock down a higher percentage of perimeter shots.
Derrick Rose suffered from similar struggles in his rookie season in Chicago, but spent the summer after his second season reshaping his jumper to increase his three point shooting efficiency. Walker would do well to steal a page from Rose’s book.
Essentially the future of the Bobcats is in Walker’s hands right now. As Kidd-Gilchrist’s game develops and his role as an up and coming small forward becomes clearer, the team needs Walker to be the center piece of a pick and roll revolution that creates more opportunities for the entire team. If he could, the Bobcats are well placed to improve on last year’s suffering which included four occasions where they team failed to score 70 points.
Defensively, the team was a joke last season, but Walker could be the best player to help them overcome that stigma as well. A recent Sports Illustrated article has Walker in the top ten of players who force turnovers while defending the pick and roll. In his rookie season, Walker averaged a steal per game to go along with his fellow rookie Bismack Biyombo’s two blocked shots per game.
Between Walker on the perimeter, Biyombo inside and the defensively very strong Kidd-Gilchrist, who snagged five steals in Saturday’s loss to the Mavericks, guarding the space in between, the Bobcats are bound to show improvement on the defensive side of the ball as well.
But even with these improvements, 2012-13 is more likely to be a year of growth for the Bobcats. The team will do well just to avoid the basement of the Southeast Division for a second straight year and is probably going to see another chance at a top ten draft pick.
The key for Michael Jordan’s franchise now is to turn to its young players and let them lead the Bobcats into the future, particularly Walker. The team’s poor fortunes in recent seasons have brought Charlotte some solid young names. With increasing depth through Ramon Sessions to back up Walker and the aforementioned front court players, brighter days could be ahead in Charlotte, as long as head coach Mike Dunlap is allowed to develop his young point guard in the right way.