One of the interesting things about comparing Jeremy Lin to Kemba Walker this season on the Charlotte Hornets is how similar their shooting numbers are. And yet the Hornets are often much better with Lin on the floor and as a point guard. But where is the difference?
Defense is hard to show in stats, but easy to see. Lin is a much better defender than Walker. Not sure if it’s because he’s simply more eager to give more on that side of the ball or it’s something else, but Lin gives players a much more difficult time this season. We’ve already been through his defensive improvement, his blocking numbers, all coming from working on his weaknesses, especially physically. It’s been more difficult with a banged up ankle, but he hasn’t been letting players blow by him like we often see point guards do to Walker.
Lin is shooting 42.5% from the field this season, 32.7% from beyond the arc, has a 47.7% effective field goal percentage and 53.9% in true shooting. Walker? 42.6% from the field, 34.3% from beyond the arc, 47.5% eFG and 53.4% TS. That’s really similar, only Walker is shooting a lot more than Lin (15.5 per game compared to 9.5, and 23% more when you compare it per minute), especially in recent games. And it hasn’t helped the Hornets deal with the losing streak. It probably made things worse, more difficult.
The shooting numbers are extremely similar. The difference between Lin and Walker is seen in the eye test, on defense, and net ratings. The Hornets are 5.3 points per 100 possessions better when Lin is playing compared to his time on the bench or out of the game. Lin also has a +3.2 net rating. Walker? A -1.0 net rating, and the Hornets are worse off when he’s playing by 6.2 points per 100 possessions. Lin’s net rating has dropped since moving to the starting lineup, although it’s less about him and more about the Hornets as a team falling apart without Nicolas Batum. This isn’t an excuse trying to ignore stats. It’s simply how it is.
The answer? Assuming Batum is now healthy and Lin will get over his ankle issue pretty soon, the Hornets will go back to the way things were. Lin coming off the bench, Walker and Batum in the starting lineup and probably Lin playing in the fourth quarters, often stuck on the corner while Walker plays his usual game. Any chance Clifford realizes Walker might be a better option coming off the bench? Tiny one. Any chance someone on this team tells Walker to stop playing like he’s the only one on this team capable of scoring? Maybe even smaller.
It might be safe to assume the Hornets will break this losing streak soon once things get back to normal. But does that mean everything is OK? Probably not. Walker will have big games from time to time because talented scorers will have hot streaks and cold streaks, doesn’t matter if it’s smart or not giving them the ball so many times to do the same thing. The Hornets can be smarter, better and different, even if it means hurting the ego of the star they’re trying to market so badly. But they won’t be, at least going by what we’ve seen so far this season.