There’s no denying the Charlotte Bobcats are in a horrible slide right now. However, in that same breath, there’s also no denying the fact that they compete, are routinely in games, and had a much better start to the 2013-13 NBA season that most gave them a shot at.
A huge reason for any success they’ve found is Kemba Walker and a huge second-year leap.
His minutes are up by over eight per game, and the former UConn star hasn’t let them go to waste. He’s jumped his scoring average from 12.1 points per game as a rookie to 18.1 at the time of this article, while also averaging career highs in field goal percentage (42.8%), free throw percentage (81.1%), assists (6.1) and steals (2).
Walker still has a ways to go in becoming a true NBA point guard. He’s still not the best defender out there, turns the ball over a bit more than you’d like, and has yet to nail down the nuances of being a starting lead guard at the highest level.
But he’s getting there. We all knew he was a clutch performer and could lead. We knew he could shoot and score. That’s all there, and arguably then some. It’s the passing, decision-making and improved defense that make Walker an interesting candidate for Most Improved Player of the year.
The only question is, can he actually win it?
It’s going to be tough, as there are several other guys who have made gigantic jumps in 2012-12. Cleveland Cavaliers big man Anderson Varejao has been dominating the paint all year, averaging a solid 13.8 points per game and an incredible league-leading 14.6 rebounds per game. He’s also chipping in 3.4 assists per game and shooting at a 48% clip.
There’s a chance Varejao’s rebounding average could dip over time, but toe to toe, it could be difficult for Walker to top him. In order to do that, Walker would undoubtedly have to raise his assist number to 7-8 per game, and a hair over 20 points could help do the trick, as well. And of course, helping the Bobcats win a decent amount of games in the process surely wouldn’t hurt.
But Varejao isn’t his only competition. In fact, there are two other point guards that have made big leaps this year that should rival him all season for the award – Stephen Curry and Jrue Holiday. Curry is averaging a career high 19.7 points per game, as well as a career high 6.5 assists per game, all while helping the surprise Golden State Warriors to an unlikely 16-8 start. While Walker’s and Curry’s numbers compare, Curry has the edge in the wins column and it’d be tough to declare Walker the winner if the voting had to happen today. The same goes for Holiday, who has his 76ers at a respectable 12-12 mark and is crushing Curry and Walker in the assist column with 8.9 per game. He’s also right there with them as a scorer, too, with 18.4 dimes per game.
Varejao and the point guards mentioned aren’t alone, however. The Dallas Mavericks needed someone to shoulder the scoring load with star forward Dirk Nowitzki on the shelf to start the year, and freshly signed O.J. Mayo answered the call. Not only was he just a bench player for Memphis a year ago, but he’s on a new team and in a new offense, but he’s killing it with an average of 20.4 points per game, while averaging an insane 51.2% from long range. That number is even more impressive when you note that he averages over five deep chucks per game.
Still, against all of these guys, it’s arguably Walker still has a chance. He can match them in points and assists by the end of the year, if not even top them. And judging off of Charlotte’s hot start, there’s still a chance they can turn things around and get competitive again.
All that being said, the real top candidate for Most Improved Player hasn’t been mentioned yet, and we all know who it really is – James Harden. Harden has turned into a mega superstar ever since being traded from the Thunder to the Rockets, and has upped his scoring average from 16.8 points per game to an even 25. He’s not a one-trick pony, either, as he’s come up clutch at times, and fills up the stat sheet with averages of 5.3 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game.
Is Walker in contention for the Most Improved Player award? I still think so. He’s just going to have to keep getting better to get it.