Despite the dismal 9-25 record, the Charlotte Bobcats have something the team didn't possess last year: blossoming talent.
While the Bobcats has failed to win games, especially as of late, the franchise finally has a semblance of a promising core, headlined by the much improved Kemba Walker.
While some members of the NBA community may point towards the likes of either former Kentucky forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, sixth man Ramon Sessions or lanky center Byron Mullens when determining which player has been the best for Charlotte, it is crystal clear that Walker is truly the franchise cornerstone for the organization.
Since his days at UConn, people have always tended to look past how much potential Kemba Walker holds. Whether it be due to his small stature, score-first mentality or lack of flashy plays, this point guard has managed to put up some pretty impressive numbers this year.
However, this production didn't just come out of nowhere. While fans were in awe last season by fellow 2011-12 rookies Kyrie Irving and Kenneth Faried and wondering why Derrick Williams wasn't being utilized with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Walker was quietly having a solid rookie campaign on a horrible roster.
Just because the team is bad, doesn't mean young players in the rotation can't benefit from hardwood exposure.
Last year, Walker averaged 12.1 points, 4.4 assists and 3.5 boards in 27 minutes of action, which isn't bad considering opponents often would lock down on the 6'1" guard.
This season, the UConn prodigy has risen his game, averaging near All-Star caliber numbers. If 17.9 points, 6.0 assists, 3.2 boards and 1.8 steals doesn't impress you, consider the fact that Walker shares a backcourt with Ben Gordon, Ramon Sessions and Gerald Henderson.
So how is Walker having such a fantastic season? Well, let's break it down.
While last season was a successful one for the point guard, Walker did flash some serious flaws in his game, including his efficiency. Shooting 36.6 percent from the field won't cut it as a floor general in the NBA.
While some of it was the fact Walker had little talent around him alleviating the defensive pressure, some of it is the fact the Bobcats star would often force shots, which is a common theme in shooters coming out of college.
At the collegiate level, these star scorers are often the most talented and athletic on the floor at any given time. Once they make the transition to the NBA, they may hit a wall, realizing everyone is near, at or past them on a physical standpoint.
Walker hit that wall. Hard.
Driving to the rim with reckless abandon and heaving up contested elbow jumpers won't get a player far in the Association.
This season, though, the Bob Cousy Award recipient has found alternate solutions to his previous woes.
Walker is often utilized effectively in pick-and-roll situations, creating open shots for himself with step-back jumpers. Also, it seems as if Walker has become better at making up his mind when slashing to the hoop, allowing him to possess more free-throw opportunities by creating contact.
In the NBA, one of the harder things for franchises to find is the glue guy that essentially fills the gaps in the roster. For example, Jason Kidd serves this purpose for the New York Knicks and Chandler Parsons has this niche for the Houston Rockets.
They may specialize in one facet of the game, but are more than competent to take on a multitude of roles for the team.
Rarely does this type of player also double as the franchise's star. Rajon Rondo and LeBron James immediately come to mind when talking about cornerstones who can produce in numerous fields.
Not only are they triple-double machines, but they are stifling defenders.
Kemba Walker has become somewhat of a poor man's Rondo, with a sweeter stroke, when it comes to what their respective teams need from them.
For Rondo, the Celtics are far past their prime, leaving their starting point guard to do much of the heavy lifting. Walker's team, on the other hand, has just the opposite problem, as most of their rotation players are young and inexperienced.
Nevertheless, the fact that Walker is averaging six dimes, three boards and two steals while also being the team's number one scoring threat is quite impressive.
Look up and down the Bobcats roster and you won't find one other player who contributes significantly in that many categories.
Takes the Critical Shot
It truly does say quite a bit about a player when they are called to take the big shot in a game by their teammates and coach, especially when said athlete is only 22 years old.
Walker has taken numerous critical shot attempts this season, which calls attention to who really is the leader on this team. Sure, Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions are veterans, but Walker is almost always the one heaving at the buzzer.
So while the Bobcats have seen a multitude of different players step up to the plate this season, it is pretty clear that Kemba Walker is this team's best player.
I'll be the first to admit that I doubted this UConn sensation even after he carried the Huskies to a national title.
For some reason, the NBA has developed an anxiety against small guards with a scoring mentality. Along with forward tweeners and international centers, these players are often scanned over on draft day, resulting in a selection that isn't a true testament of the player's potential or value.
This is just another case of such a scenario, and Walker is proving the NBA wrong.
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