As something of a continuation to the last couple of posts regarding Jeremy Lin, his function within the Charlotte Hornets and what does it have to do with Kemba Walker and Steve Clifford (almost everything), we keep looking into the issue of who is the actual point guard, or at least should be.
Lin has been splitting his time this season between the ‘1’ and the ‘2’ when he’s on the floor, usually not getting too much of the ball when he’s next to Walker in the lineup. When it’s the second unit, the Hornets’ best unit thus far, with Lin at the point? Things look better, faster. The Hornets are winning by 11.1 points per 100 possessions with Lin on the floor, and are 11 points per 100 possessions better with him than without him. Walker? He has a +2.1 net rating during his minutes, but the Hornets are still better off by 11 points per 100 possessions when he’s not playing. It has less to do with him and more with the whole concept of the bad starting lineup altogether.
This is a season of progress for Kemba Walker, but he still has some things holding him back stuck with him since his days with the Huskies in Connecticut. His shooting (45.2% from the field, 39.6% from beyond the arc) is the best that it’s ever been. He’s taking less contested shots than before (about 40% last season according to NBA.Com), with 46% of his field goal attempts labeled as open or wide open. His effective field goal percentage is at 50.9%, the first time out of the 40’s since entering the NBA. He’s definitely improved as a shooter in pretty much every aspect, or simply in a better situation, with better players around him to draw away attention.
Still, he loves to pull up for jumpers, which is always a shot coaches don’t like. Walker takes almost half of his shots (48.5%) through the pull up jumper, making 38.8% of them. That’s even slightly more than he attempted last season that way. And when he and the Hornets fall into that tendency, that’s when a lot of the time the starters, or the lineup which Walker is leading, falls into offensive abysses and all the work and talk about moving the ball disappears.
Walker plays all of his time on the court as the point guard. It’s beyond me how the idea of maybe letting someone else handle that position with Walker on the floor not come across Clifford’s mind from time to time. Walker isn’t a bad shooter, and he has a much better shot selection than before. Nicolas Batum does share the issue of ball handling when the two are together, and both he and Jeremy Lin are better passers than Walker, and probably look for the pass first, although Batum has become more confident in Charlotte, shooting more per minute than ever before, although he’s not too accurate, or as accurate as he was earlier in his career.
The Hornets are benefiting from playing differently from last season, especially without Al Jefferson. Quicker lineups, more spacing and the defense isn’t missing a player who can’t hustle through transition. The bench unit, although playing against other bench players most of the time, has been their biggest strength, often pulling them back into games and paving the way for (usually) Walker and Batum to hold on to the game and carry the momentum.
But making Lin wait on the corner and wither away during his joint minutes with Walker is simply misusing the roster under his guidance. Clifford needs to make the most of this, and sometimes, it means turning Walker into the off-the-ball guard, who will draw more attention than Lin anyway because of the respect he gets from defenses. Sticking with him through thick and thin even when it’s not beneficial for the team might end up costing some more games for the Hornets, who are finding themselves a bit higher than they expected at this point of the season.