But his performance so far has done just that. Walker ranks third in the N.B.A. in offensive plus/minus, a catchall stat to measure the overall value of a player’s offensive game. Ranking No. 4 in that measurement is James; No. 5 is Durant. Walker is also taking more 3-pointers than ever before, while still making them (36.2 percent) at around his career rate. He’s increased his efficiency from inside the arc as well, and it is now a career-best 51 percent.
And in perhaps the greatest marker of a star, he’s putting up performances like his 60-point effort against Philadelphia on Nov. 17 (the Sixers made it clear after the game that they simply had no answer for Walker), and making his teammates better as well. Having the ball in his hands hasn’t come at the expense of other Hornets being able to make plays, and eight Hornets have an assist percentage of at least 10, reflecting a team that makes the right pass as often as anyone, particularly considering Charlotte’s league-low turnover rate.
“He’s just drawing so much attention to himself that a lot of teams are trying to double-team him, blitz those high pick-and-rolls,” said Cody Zeller, the Hornets center and longtime Walker teammate. Zeller’s assist percentage was 7.4 last season but has ballooned to 12 this year. “So, Kemba is very unselfish. He has common sense to make plays. A lot of times he takes on a double team, kicks it to me and then it’s on me to create for the next opportunity.”
For Walker, there’s been no massive change in diet, no secret workout regimen. But he has embraced Borrego’s call for making quicker decisions — something apart from raw pace numbers, but which has led to a team that dribbles less and passes more. So while the Hornets have fallen from eighth in the league last year in pace to 12th this season, their offensive efficiency has jumped from 13th to 7th, meaning they are making each possession count.
Even on the defensive end, the undersized Walker has found another level. He has improved in pick-and-roll defending, striving to get tougher in an area in which he had been susceptible to getting victimized on either the screen or the switch. Walker now ranks among the better guards in the league on such plays.
“It’s Kemba’s effort,” Borrego said. “We’ve tweaked our defense from how they’ve played in the past. It is a team effort, but I give Kemba a ton of credit. His effort through the pick-and-roll is as good as anybody. He’s fighting through screens, he’s guarding the best point guards every single night, and he’s competing on that end of the floor.”