LAS VEGAS Somewhere at or near the top of Mike Dunlaps to-do list would be the following: Get Kemba back to being Kemba.
Dunlap, the new coach of the Charlotte Bobcats, said as much at Saturday practice when he said he thought Walker was one of the countrys five best players two years ago at Connecticut, but that wasnt reflected in his play as an NBA rookie.
Most everything concerning the Bobcats revamped offense involves early-possession efforts to attack the rim. That was Walkers forte when he led the Huskies to the national championship in 2011. The team did it well Friday night in an up-tempo blowout of the Sacramento Kings. It was a template for the future, though a summer-league result counts for nothing.
Scratch that. For Walker, who hadnt won a basketball game in four months, it meant a lot.
It counts, Walker said of beating the Kings at UNLVs Cox Pavilion. I say this ends the losing streak at 23.
While the NBA wont chronicle that feat in the standings, I sure get Walkers point. Its been forever since any Bobcat had a reason to smile, and Friday night felt like an exorcism. They led from end-to-end, when often last season they trailed end-to-end.
Byron Mullens looked like an honest-to-gosh big man, rather than a 7-foot shooting guard. And the rookies were something else. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was hawking passing lanes and dunking at will. Jeff Taylor was doing a convincing Dell Curry impression from the 3-point line.
Walker was orchestrating all of this as the point guard of a team running and pressing baseline-to-baseline. Its fair to say Walker was pretty glum from about January through April. Ive seen him smile more the past four days than in the previous four months.
Im a playmaker, Walker said, as if to remind himself. I can pass, shoot the jumper and get to the rim. This (offense) is putting me right in the paint, and thats where I do my best work.
This is just a situation where I feel like hes letting me do my best work.
Thats no coincidence. When Dunlap interviewed with the Bobcats, beating out nine other candidates for the job, one of the clinchers was the intricate description he gave of how to optimize Walker. He illustrated a series of drag screens the plays that worked so well for Steve Nash in Phoenix and Chris Paul in New Orleans as a way of getting more from a guy who was a lottery pick and college player of the year just 16 months ago.
Hes the head of the dog, Dunlap said of Walkers value going forward.
The events of last week emphasized that. The Bobcats quietly divorced themselves from D.J. Augustin Thursday, signing Ramon Sessions (presumably to be Walkers backup) and then rescinding a $4 million-plus qualifying offer to Augustin, who quickly signed with the Indiana Pacers.
There were numerous reasons for the divorce. Augustin had turned down an extension offer last winter that the Bobcats considered more than generous. It was obvious though he denied this publicly that Augustin wanted to be elsewhere. And though Walker still has much to learn, he was more what the team wanted.
There was another simple reason: Walker is an alpha male and Augustin was not. Most NBA players need their egos contracted. Augustin, in contrast, never had the rock-hard self-confidence you want from any starter, particularly your point guard. Thats never been a secret.
Walker is more extraverted, more decisive and assertive. Hes effectively coaching Kidd-Gilchrist on the floor. Friday when MKG was sloppy about receiving a pass, Walker barked, Mike! Two hands! and Kidd-Gilchrist responded immediately and deferentially.
This is just the situation where I feel most comfortable, Walker said of the up-tempo, attacking style Dunlap is teaching daily. Ive got to pick my spots, but when Im driving to the lane, I can do a lot of things and hes giving me that opportunity.
Its simple, really. Hes remembering how to be Kemba again.