A few weeks ago Nic Batum appointed himself manager of the Get-Kemba-Walker-to-the-All-Star Game campaign.
So, how’s the campaign going?
"Pretty well so far," Batum said with a contented grin, after Walker scored 30 in the Charlotte Hornets’ 99-95 road victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
"He can carry us. My job is just to support him."
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This was Walker’s fourth consecutive game of 20 or more points, and the Hornets are 4-1. They haven’t played great competition so far, other than the Boston Celtics, but keep in mind three of those victories were on the road.
The way the Hornets treat each other and those around them is pretty special. Ex-Hornet Jeremy Lin said the same thing pre-game, mentioning how last season is how all basketball teams should function.
This team has flaws. It drives coach Steve Clifford nuts that they are so prone to slow starts (the Nets led by 13 in the first quarter). As Walker said, if they don’t clean that up "we won’t be getting these results."
Still, there is a lot to like. Clifford constantly praises his team’s fight. They have versatile defenders who are suited to the current NBA game, where being able to switch on mid-sized scorers is essential.
And they have a closer like Walker, who made 11 of 22 shots Friday, including three crucial 3-pointers.
The guy’s confidence is soaring, and part of that is his teammates believe in him so much.
I’ve been around more than 25 NBA locker rooms. The way the Hornets treat each other and those around them is pretty special. Ex-Hornet Jeremy Lin said the same thing pre-game, mentioning how last season is how all basketball teams should function.
I reminded Walker post-game about Batum saying he considers it his job to get Walker to the All-Star Game in New Orleans. That prompted a huge grin from Walker.
"That’s cool to have a teammate like that," Walker said. "To have a teammate love you the way he does, there is no better feeling."
Kemba Walker can deny forever that New York brings out something special in him, but the evidence to the contrary is clear.
Here’s what else is cool. No matter how much he pooh-pooh’s the notion, Walker gets that much more juiced when he’s playing in his native New York.
Most of you know the history; how he essentially dragged Connecticut to the Big East title at Madison Square Garden on route to the national championship. How so many of his best NBA performances happen either at the Garden or the Barclays Center.
Walker can deny forever that New York brings out something special in him, but the evidence to the contrary is clear.
"I know who I am and he [Kemba Walker] knows who he is."
Friday, he made a slew of big shots on a night when the Hornets easily could have lost to an inferior opponent (the Nets are 2-4 and have lost Lin for at least two weeks to a hamstring strain.)
Just as importantly, one of the smallest guys on the court grabbed six rebounds. Compare that to 7-foot Nets center Brook Lopez, who grabbed just three rebounds.
If, as Clifford says, the best quality about this group is its fight, then the center of that fight is Walker.
"It was our defensive intensity. We finally made them take tough shots," Walker said of the second-half comeback. "At one point, we just couldn’t stop them. We had to pick up our communication."
Maybe so, but there’s no communication problem between Walker and his campaign manager about what makes this team work right now.
"I know who I am," Batum said of the pecking order, "and he knows who he is."