CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Kemba Walker wants to be an NBA All-Star.
But the Hornets’ steadily improving 6-foot point guard knows he has to get healthy first, which means resting his surgically repaired knee a little longer. Walker was limited to non-contract drills as the Hornets opened training camp on Tuesday at their downtown arena.
“I hate it. … You know how much of a competitor I am. But it’s the smart thing to do at this time (because) I don’t want to have any setbacks,” said Walker, adding that he hopes to be 100 percent for the start of the regular season.
The 26-year-old Walker is coming off the best season of his five-year NBA career, averaging a 20.9 points, 5.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game in 2015-16 while shooting a career-best 42.7 percent from the field.
But the stat that pops out the most is his improved 3-point shooting. Walker made 37.1 percent from beyond the arc last season after making less than 33 percent his first four years in the league.
Walker finished second in the voting for Most Improved Player, battling through knee pain near the end of the season and leading the Hornets to a 48-win season that culminated in a Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Teammate Marvin Williams said Walker could have easily “shut it down” due to a torn meniscus in his left knee, but elected to keep on playing.
Walker has surgery in May to repair the problem.
“I feel like he was (an All-Star) last year,” teammate Marvin Williams said. “And that’s not taking anything away from any of the guys that made it in the East. They are very, very good. The guards are big time. But I feel like Kemba was right there. He was beat up and he continued to fight through it every night. If he is healthy and has a year like he did last year I think he will definitely be there in February.”
It’s that kind of dedication to the team that has made Walker a favorite in the locker room.
Nicolas Batum, the team’s highest-paid player, said he’s made it his personal goal to help get Walker into the All-Star game this season.
“He’s special. He’s really special,” Batum said. “People don’t understand how good he is. He had a breakout season last year. He’s a franchise guard.”
Walker is dramatically more confident in his shooting than this time a year ago when he working with shooting coach Bruce Kreutzer to tweak his mechanics, according to coach Steve Clifford.
There were times Walker contemplated scrapping the changes, but he stuck with it and the results followed. Now he doesn’t even think about the altered shooting motion anymore.
“If you go back to the last 21 games of the year, his 3-point shooting put him in a different place,” Clifford said.
Clifford said with Walker’s improved shooting and range it makes it more difficult for teams to defend him.
“His range takes away the under in the pick-and-roll,” Clifford said. “And he’s such a good pick-and-roll player anyway. I think he is really maturing as a player.”
Perhaps enough to be an All-Star.
“I was pretty close last year,” Walker said. “I’m getting the hang of things in this league and playing really well. I want to continue to play well and win. But in order for me to be an All-Star we have to win. That’s what it is going to take.”