The Charlotte Hornets played the Philadelphia 76ers at home last week and were inexplicably down by 13 with 3:11 left in the second quarter. Watch Kemba Walker, I said.
As the half moved to a close, Walker went one against the defense, one against Philadelphia and one against the world. Somebody had to say, “Losing to these guys makes no sense,” and Walker volunteered. He kept the Hornets in the game and they went on to win 109-93.
The Hornets selected Walker with the ninth pick in the 2011 draft. That summer I ran into Stephen Curry, who had been drafted two seasons earlier, and he said, “Kemba is going to be good.”
Hornets’ owner Michael Jordan had watched Walker lead Connecticut to the NCAA championship. It was as if every opponent was the 76ers. Jordan wanted Walker. But he still had fun with him.
Jordan asked me if Walker was taller than I was. I’m 5-9 and he’s 6-1, I said. Jordan laughed and said, “He’s not 6-1.”
You list Walker on the roster at 6-1, and “Hornets never lie.” (Those were the first three words in a book about the team’s first season.)
Walker is a New York City player. When he came into the league he could go to the hoop. But his shot was wildly inconsistent. He shot anyway. His first season he shot 36.6 percent from the field and 30.5 percent on 3-point attempts.
Check, however, the rosters of the terrible early teams for which Walker played. To whom was he going to pass? Players took turns trying to get the ball near the rim.
What I admired (and admire) is how Walker improves annually. There’s not a facet of the game in which he hasn’t become better. The Hornets are 5-1 this season, and six is a small sample of games. But it’s been a fine sample for Walker.
He shoots 49 percent from the field and 48.7 percent on 3s. He hit five of his first six 3-point attempts Monday in Charlotte’s almost perfect, look at that ball move, 122-100 victory against the Indiana Pacers. He scored 16 first-half points. He averages 24.3 points and 5.5 assists.
The Hornets are a collection of interesting parts, and they’ll continue to move to Walker’s beat. This is a good week to catch them. They play the Utah Jazz at Spectrum Center – it’s still odd to write Spectrum Center – on Wednesday. They then play last season’s NBA Eastern Conference finalists – Toronto in Charlotte Friday and defending champion Cleveland in Cleveland Sunday.