Walker’s improved jump shot key to Hornets recent success
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A month ago, something dramatically changed with Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker. Seemingly out of nowhere, and for the first time in his career, he found a consistent jump shot.
For most fans, a statement like that may seem outrageous. They know that he’s been one of the team leaders in scoring since he was drafted ninth overall in the 2011 NBA draft. But a closer look into his shooting shows he was anything but a good shooter.
In fact, one could even use the word poor to describe his jump shot.
However, for the last 19 games, Walker has been on the best shooting stretch of his career. As a result or his torrid pace, he’s nearly singlehandedly saved Charlotte’s playoff chances. And with stars like All-Pro center Al Jefferson and star shooting guard Lance Stephenson being out nearly a month each, Walker had no choice but to find his touch.
Just to grasp what kind of hot streak Walker is on, take a look at his raw numbers before and after Dec. 12:
– After the All-Star break last season, Walker shot just 35.7 percent from the field.
– The first 21 games of this season, Walker shot 36 percent.
– In his last 19 games, Walker has shot 44.6 percent.
– In his last six games, Walker has shot 47.3 percent.
– Before Dec. 12, Walker averaged 14.8 points per game.
– Since Dec. 12, Walker has averaged 24.3 points per game.
His play last week helped the Hornets go 4-0 and earned him NBA Player of the Week honors.
"I’m just being aggressive and being confident," Walker said. "I knew I was capable of shooting the ball better. That slump I was in was disappointing for me."
Walker then added that he didn’t think he ever pressed the issue, which could’ve compounded his shooting woes even more. Instead, he said the reason he struggled so much is pretty simple.
"I just think I was just missing," he said. "After a while when you miss a lot of shots, your confidence goes."
Walker, a career 40 percent shooter, knew this was going to be a pivotal season for him. And for really the first time in his career, the undersized point guard worked harder at his shooting during the offseason than ever before.
He teamed up with assistant coach Mark Price, who was one of the best pure shooting point guards during his tenure in the NBA in the 1980s and 1990s, to try and help his game.
It’s been paying dividends the last 19 games.
"He did so much in the summer," said head coach Steve Clifford said. "He’s a totally different player than he was a year ago. He just hadn’t shot the ball well. Now, he’s shooting the ball well and if you’re a talented guy that’s putting in as much time as he did in the summer, and every day he does extra, it’s only a matter of time before he makes them.
"If you ask his teammates, they’re not surprised and neither are his coaches."
While his hot shooting has only been around for half of the season, his desire to take the last shot with the game on the line has been there nearly his entire career.
Walker has hit numerous game-winning shots in the final seconds this season. He’s missed a few, too. Even so, he’s the one that practically demands the ball late in the game.
"He knows who wants it," Walker said of Clifford. "Even my teammates. They’re like, ‘Kemba, win the game.’ When you have guys that are confident in you, of course I want to take the last shot."
Clifford half-jokingly said that he doesn’t dare not let Walker control the outcome.
"If I’d try to draw something else up, he would’ve (erased the play from the clipboard)," Clifford said.
It remains to be seen whether Walker can maintain his hot shooting. It also remains to be seen whether he can guide his team into the playoffs for the second straight season.
Clifford has faith Walker is capable of doing both.
"I think he can be a cornerstone player for teams that can go deep into the playoffs because of his competitiveness," Clifford said. "He just has a competitive spirit that is contagious to me."