I’ve heard Kemba Walker’s shot-making skills described a multitude of ways. “Depressing,” though, was a whole new term.
I get what Chicago Bulls coach Jim Boylen was trying to convey pre-game: There has to be something demoralizing about how Walker, sometimes a foot shorter than the defender meeting him at the rim, somehow contorts his body in a way that gets that ball through the rim so masterfully.
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The fourth quarter of the Charlotte Hornets’ 125-118 home victory was classic Kemba. He scored 15 of his 37 points in the 8 1/2 minutes he played down the stretch. The Hornets trailed by a point with 7 1/2 minutes left before Walker scored seven consecutive points. Yeah, that has to be depressing for the other team.
There was a Walker dribble-drive with about four minutes left that was the signature for his night. Bulls guard Zach LaVine, 4 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than Walker, thumped down on Walker’s arms looking to at least avert a made layup. Somehow - I have no clue - Walker powered through LaVine’s foul to make the basket and get to the line.
I’m sure that was depressing, as were the other 13 free throws Walker took Saturday. Hacking this guy tends to just make an opponent’s predicament worse.
“It’s a lot of different things - using my body, timing,” Walker said of his ability to freeze defenders or force them to foul. “A lot of times they just can’t time my jumps. Just be as crafty as I can, because I’m a small guy.
“I just try to throw them off as much as possible. It took a lot of time to learn that stuff.”
This was the 14th game this season that Walker scored 30 or more points. He’s an All-Star starter for the first time in his career, which will be all the more special Feb. 17 because the game is in Charlotte. He belongs there. There are times like the fourth quarter Saturday when he is Iverson-esque.
I know it sounds like a reach to some to compare Walker to former NBA star Allen Iverson, but there are clear similarities as far as the ability to score by the dozens at around 6-foot of height. Hornets coach James Borrego says he sees a spirit about how Walker plays that does remind him of the way Iverson competed years ago.
Two-time Hornets coach Paul Silas used to say you must guard Iverson for the drive, because on nights when he’s making his 3-point shot consistently you probably already were destined to lose. That speaks to how much Walker’s value rose a few summers ago when he dramatically improved his shooting range. When he’s making around 36 percent of his 3-pointers, you can’t just back off in preparation for the drive.
Walker’s drive game is complex: The explosion to the rim is obvious, but it’s just as much the sudden changes of direction and stops and starts. It freezes defenders at times nearly to the point of paralysis. At minimum, it forces defenders to guard as much with their arms as their feet, which leads to fouls.
Boylen described the problem this way post-game:
“If he gets even with you (as he drives toward the basket), it’s over. If you’re not chest-to-chest with him (it’s over). If you get side-saddle with him, it’s over,” Boylen said.
“He’s got a knack for getting a good whistle (i.e. drawing fouls), too. Fourteen free throws, and the one he missed, we didn’t rebound. We gave up a 3.”
That third-quarter play Boylen described illustrated Walker’s tenacity. Someone from the Bulls forgot to block out Walker at the foul line, and he sprinted after his own miss. He rebounded, dribbled backward to the 3-point line, and buried a 26-foot jump shot.
Beyond all the obvious statistics Walker generates, he is naturally the Hornets’ momentum maker. You can view that as either his ability to tatter the opponent’s confidence or reinforce his own team’s.
I asked Walker if he ever notices that “depressing” effect on the opponent Boylen mentioned pre-game.
“I think that’s like anyone who kind of gets into a zone, especially when it’s big shots,” Walker replied. “No (opponent) wants to see that.”
He’s right. The difference is not just anyone in the NBA gets into that zone full of big shots Walker populates so frequently.
Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell