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The Kemba Walker Report

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The former UConn great is now in his fourth season in the NBA. Though he's still beloved by fans of the Huskies, how does the fanbase of the Charlotte Hornets respond to him?

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been almost four years since Kemba Walker last played a game for the UConn Huskies, but like the other great players in the program’s history, his influence can still be felt around campus and the fanbase. Of course, there is another team who currently feels his influence daily, and I am of course referring to the Charlotte Hornets. I’ve been able to follow Walker’s professional career heavily since day one due to both my position on the writing staff of At The Hive (SB Nation’s Charlotte Hornets blog; check us out some time!), and my affiliation as a huge Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats fan (and also as a lifelong supporter of Connecticut basketball, but that’s another story for another post). While I’m sure many of us at this blog have kept up with the professional career of one of the best players in UConn history, here's a look at how Charlotte fans have viewed him at various points in his career.

Walker is drafted: The then-Bobcats’ new General Manager, Rich Cho, trades up in the draft to the ninth spot to take Walker with their second first-round pick in 2011. At this point, there are still misconceptions that Michael Jordan is the one truly running the show, but all Charlotte fans are thrilled with the hiring of Cho, an analytics expert who was the GM of the Portland Trailblazers for one season. Cho has earned a reputation for being very shrewd at trading, and this is one of the first deals to give many fans that impression. With Charlotte’s last first-round pick being the solid but uninspiring selection of Gerald Henderson in 2009, fans are overjoyed to get Walker, who many saw as a potential All-Star with big play ability that could one day lead the franchise to a playoff win.

Rookie season: For much of the season, Kemba found himself backing up DJ Augustin, the Bobcats’ first round pick from just a few years prior. This was the infamous 7-59 Bobcats team that set a record for futility, and many fans became frustrated that Augustin, rather than Walker, was getting the bulk of the starts. Walker struggled this year, shooting only .366 from the floor, a pretty abysmal rate, and wasn’t getting the type of assist numbers one would expect from a backup, averaging under six assists per 36 minutes. He led the team in PER.

Second season: While the Bobcats’ improvement as a team didn’t make much of a difference in the overall standings, Kemba Walker’s improvement as a player made a big difference in terms of how he was seen by both the Charlotte fanbase and the overall NBA viewership. With many of the established point guards suffering from either injuries or ineffectiveness, or both, Walker’s production in 2012-13 was measured by many advanced metrics as one of the top ten among players at the position. It made sense, too; his sharp rise in shooting percentages and his improved passing eye (with a little help from the guys catching the passes) were two of the biggest factors in the formation of Walker’s best NBA season to this point.

Third season: Walker’s production fell back a bit during his third season, but with the Bobcats having the best season for a professional basketball franchise in Charlotte since the great Hornets teams of the 90's, fans were more than happy to sit back and enjoy the high points of his play despite the occurrence of some low points. The fanbase at this point was realizing that his shoot-first tendencies are an inherent characteristic of Walker as a basketball player, and not just the result of him being on teams that were absent in quality outside scorers (or, for that matter, scorers of any kind). While still an obvious asset in the starting lineup, fans were starting to see the limitations in his potential.

Current season
: The slump that started in 2013-14 has continued into the first quarter of the 2014-15 season. Walker’s shoot-first philosophy, coupled with the starting backcourt’s almost complete ineptitude at shooting, has become a big factor into the slow start of the first year of the return of the Hornets name to Charlotte. Walker isn’t the only one who has earned, and deserved, some criticism for the ten-game losing streak that saw the Hornets’ record fall to 4-15, but he is absolutely still seen as a long-term asset to this team (especially with the four-year contract extension he signed this summer). Kemba has not been one of the most effective players in Charlotte this season, but he’s still viewed as one of the most important players to getting the team out of the hole they’ve found themselves in this season. That, more than anything, says how fans in Charlotte continue to react to having Kemba Walker on this team.