It’s a chilly Monday night in Chicago, the second day of 2017. The NBA season has chugged along for more than two months now and on this night, the Charlotte Hornets are playing their 35th game of this campaign, and their fifth game in a week. But somehow, Kemba Walker finds a way to dig deep and shake the hell outta a couple of Bulls defenders. Crossover, head fake and hesitation to a floater. That’s the way Walker’s playing each and every night now.
His career-best 23 points per game, 47 percent shooting from the field and 42 percent from three-point range has led the Hornets to a 20-18 record and put Walker in prime position for a spot in this year’s All-Star Game.
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) December 29, 2016
His game has evolved from the step-back jumpers and crossovers that made him well-known in his college days to something more complete. Walker has become an efficient point guard. Back in 2014, he had 16 dimes in a win against the Pistons. He’s had three more games in his career where he’s dished out at least 13 helpers. He’s on pace to have more doubles-doubles this year than in 2013-14, when he had nine. His combination of creativity and high basketball IQ has solidified him as an elite guard in the League.
“It’s just another year, really,” the 26-year-old Walker says. “I’m older, I’ve been in the League six years now. Things are finally just slowing down for me. Being in the same system for four years now helps a lot as well. I know [Coach Steve Clifford’s] system, I know what he wants. I know where all my guys are on the floor, I know my spots, where I’m going to get my shots at each and every night. That’s really been a difference.”
Another difference has been Nic Batum. The 28-year-old Frenchmen is in his second season with the Hornets and he and Walker are clicking.
“Nic is just such a great passer,” Walker says of Batum, who averages almost 6 assists a night. “It’s really easy to play with him. A lot has to do with him. He just knows how to play the game, man. He’s really helped me. Me being around him for a year, I just know how he’s going to play. I know certain passes he’s going to make. He just makes the game easy for so many of us.”
Batum’s ability to help Walker with ball handling and playmaking has allowed Walker to continue to add to his offensive arsenal. His PER, usage rate, effective shooting percentage and true shooting percentage are all at the highest they’ve been in his career. In short, Walker has never been better.
He’s on a mission to win as many games as possible and get Charlotte back to the playoffs. This time around, he’s getting the entire spotlight. To generate buzz around Kemba’s potential All-Star season, the Hornets recently gifted “Walker, Charlotte Ranger” to the world. The videos star Walker as a crimefighting ballplayer in a tribute to Chuck Norris and the ’90s TV series, Walker, Texas Ranger.
“I like doing things like that,” Walker says. “Get the chance to show other sides of myself, as well as Frank and Spencer who were a part of it. It just gives people a chance to see another side of us, because they only see us on the court really. It was pretty cool.”
There could possibly be more “Walker, Charlotte Ranger” videos coming but the lead actor wouldn’t 100% confirm or deny either way.
The videos are part of the new Kemba Walker. He’s putting himself out there in the wild, wild internet and leading more than ever.
“I’m really more of a guy who leads by example,” Walker says. I don’t really have to say much. I just let my actions speak. It’s all about hard work. When guys see work, and then the hard work pays off, the guys around you see that. Now that I’m older and I am getting better with being more vocal, which adds another dimension to my leadership.”
The Hornets lose the game in Chicago on that chilly Monday night. Walker finishes with 34 points on 13-19 shooting. He also has 11 rebounds. Three days later he drops 32 points in a 115-14 loss to the Pistons, his fifth 30-point game of the season. Just another night at the office. Word is he’ll be taking a quick vacation to New Orleans this February.
Max Resetar is an Assistant Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @maxresetar. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.