The NBA is filled with many young, talented players who are thriving as stars and in supporting roles on teams across the league. Some players have to wait for their opportunities to come, while others get thrown right into the fire and are forced to prove themselves from the very beginning.
The trend follows that players normally take a season or two to adjust to the NBA pace and style of play. After that, organizations expect their young stars to emerge and begin showing the league why they drafted them. However, there are always players that will be ahead of the learning curve and other players that will never catch up to it.
One player ahead of the curve and already shining as an up-and-coming player to watch is 22 year-old Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Bobcats.
Walker was drafted ninth overall by Charlotte in the 2011 NBA Draft. Before that, he was a collegiate star at the University of Connecticut, averaging 23.5 points per game in his third and final year while also bringing the Huskies a National Championship.
When he arrived in Charlotte, many people doubted him and thought he was drafted too high for his talent level. They based this opinion on the fact that he really only excelled in his junior season at UConn. Since then, he has silenced his critics.
In his first year in the NBA, Walker played in all 66 games of the lockout-shortened year and started 25 of them. He logged 27.2 minutes per game while averaging a modest 12.1 points, 4.4 assists and 3.5 rebounds per contest. These are strong numbers by any standard, let alone in a rookie season.
To put it in perspective, there are currently only three rookie players averaging more than 11 points per game right now this season. He may not have been a huge factor every time he went out on the court for the Bobcats, but he was consistent and gave them the go-to player they were in need of.
Now into his second season, Walker has increased his output in every category across the board. He is on the court a lot more now, logging in 36.9 minutes of work a night. He utilizes these minutes very well, as he is currently averaging 16.5 points, 5.6 assists, 3.8 rebounds and even getting 2.1 steals per game.
Walker is what you would call a breakout player who is ready to show the league exactly what he can do.
The number one asset that sticks out to me in regards to where Kemba’s potential could take him is that not only has he improved in every category from his first to his second season, but also that he has yet to start shooting at a high percentage.
For his career, Kemba has only made 37.2% of the shots he has attempted. When compared with the higher volume scorers around the league, this is a relatively low percentage. He has still managed to average 12.9 points per game during that time.
When he starts connecting on a higher percentage of the shots he takes, we will see a spike in his scoring which will allow him to take over games on a more regular basis. Walker may never be an elite passer and he definitely does not have the height to be a great rebounder, but in this league, the most valued commodity a player can bring to the table is the ability to score in high volume.
Anyone who watched him play at UConn knows this young man is capable of filling it up at a very high clip. He can break defenders down or rise up over them, he can make a mid-range jumper or finish at the rim and there is no doubting that he can score in bunches, especially when a game is on the line.
At the end of the day, it is the high scorers who get all the attention and accolades in this league. It would be foolish to bet against someone as driven as he is. I firmly believe Walker is the next breakout star in the NBA.
Many would argue that there are multiple other people knocking on the door of stardom that are well ahead of Walker, but I would offer up that he is right there. He is already starting to break through, showing that he has a multi-faceted game that will only develop with more experience and awareness of the game. He is also very durable which is key for someone who impacts the game like he does.
Walker is edging his way into the conversation of who will be taking over the league next. Admittedly, he is not the most likely-candidate, but how many of these “likely-candidates” turn out the way everyone expects?
Walker has shown marked improvement and a willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed, even in an environment where winning is seldom the topic of discussion. What’s more is that he is receiving what attention he does get from around the league playing on a small, mostly unknown team.
Outside those of us who follow the NBA closely, there are probably not a lot of people who could name three players that currently play for the Bobcats. People would tell you they know Michael Jordan runs the team before they could tell you the team’s official colors.
The biggest factor that may stand between Walker and eventual stardom is the team he suits up for every night. The Bobcats garner little to no respect, get almost zero positive press, and are always associated synonymous with losing.
This has to end if he is to get the recognition he deserves. If they can somehow fill out this team with more players like Ramon Sessions, Gerald Henderson and Jeffrey Taylor, they will be competing for higher playoff spots in the Eastern Conference in a few years.
Walker has been a part of the rejuvenation of this franchise and is increasing the team’s popularity with his dynamic play. He is under team control through at least the 2014-2015 season and will become a restricted free agent after that.
He may have the most success when he finds another team in the future, but in the meantime, I suggest the Bobcats start putting their feelers out to see if they can acquire some better talent. What they have going for them is a positive thing. Their front office needs to continue drafting the right people (i.e. Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and build around the young talent they do have.
We know from recent history that a championship-caliber team can be built through the draft, so there is no reason why this team cannot become elite riding on the back of a soon to be star player like Kemba Walker.