The Charlotte Hornets are learning about life without point guard Kemba Walker.
The star point guard will miss at least the next six weeks after having knee surgery Wednesday in New York. That cost the Hornets 18.8 points, 5.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game, all team highs.
The Hornets won their first three games without Walker, before it ultimately was determined he needed surgery. Then they lost on the road to the San Antonio Spurs 95-86. That was hardly a surprise – the Hornets have lost nine in a row to the Spurs – and Walker’s presence might not have affected the outcome.
Coach Steve Clifford addressed Walker’s absence in his postgame remarks to the players.
“What I told the guys after the game, it’s a conscious decision for all of us,” Clifford said. “We’re playing without this guy (Walker), but there’s a toughness and an intelligence about this group that should allow us to win going forward.”
For that to happen, the 19-27 Hornets must adjust. Five thoughts on life without Kemba:
Push the pace: One of the things the Hornets learned when center Al Jefferson was injured was the importance of playing at a slightly faster pace to buy extra seconds each possession.
That doesn’t mean anything frantic or necessarily many more fast-break points. It’s getting into an offensive set six seconds into a possession rather than nine or 10 because the Hornets need that extra time without Walker to create a shot or a trip to the foul line to beat the 24-second clock.
Jefferson of old: Jefferson hasn’t played quite like he did the second half of last season, when he earned third-team All-NBA. Wednesday against the Spurs, he was again that guy. He shot 8-of-12 from the field for 17 points and grabbed a season-high 16 rebounds.
Much of Jefferson’s success hinges on the work he does before he gets the ball. Establishing position deep in the post means he has to default less to mid-range jump shots. That was the difference in his efficient game Wednesday.
Efficient point guards: No one is going to replace Walker at point guard. But those filling in for him have to at least play efficiently because this team has to be low-turnover to win.
The contrast between starter Brian Roberts and fill-in backups Gary Neal and Lance Stephenson was stark Wednesday. Roberts finished with six assists and zero turnovers. Neal had four turnovers and no assists and Stephenson four and four.
Neal and Stephenson are primarily shooting guards, not points. But if Wednesday is typical of how they’ll play, the Hornets might have to look at acquiring another point.
More from the forwards: Tri-captain Gerald Henderson said the key to staying in playoff contention in Walker’s absence is getting everyone more involved. That was true for starting forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller on Wednesday.
Kidd-Gilchrist was efficient offensively, making 7 of 13 shots from the field. Zeller might have had his best game in the NBA with nine points, 13 rebounds and a career-high seven assists. That’s the sort of versatility the Hornets envisioned when they drafted him fourth overall in 2013.
Get others healthy: With Walker out through the end of February, if not longer, the Hornets can hardly afford other key injuries.
They played Wednesday without power forward Marvin Williams (concussion) and center Bismack Biyombo (bruised knee). Biyombo is likely out for road games against the Denver Nuggets Saturday and Washington Wizards Monday. But Clifford said Williams’ headaches have abated and it’s possible he’ll be cleared under the NBA’s concussion protocol to play Saturday.