Kawhi Leonard defended his DPOY award. Jamal Crawford was named Sixth Man of the Year for the third time in his career. C.J. McCollum was rightfully recognized as the Most Improved Player for 2015-16 NBA season. It’s a matter of time when Steph Curry will receive his second MVP award in a row and Karl-Anthony Towns is a front-runner for the Rookie of the Year trophy.
Celtics’ gunslinger Isaiah Thomas was selected as a reserve for the Eastern conference All-Star squad. But we are not going to talk about them this time. This is a text dedicated to a player deserving much more praising for his efforts and game over the past 7 months. His name is Kemba Walker.
For an average-sized guys and fans, it is always pure joy to watch some fellow dude dominating in the game of big guys. Hitting jumpers, creating opportunities for others, breaking somebody’s ankles and doing gravity-defying floaters. Walker is one of that kind.
Kemba is one of the best products of the famous basketball program at the University of Connecticut, led by the great coach Jim Calhoun at the time. Together they have won 2011 NCAA tournament, third in history for the Huskies. Calhoun is well-known for mentoring highly skillful guards and wings, including Reggie Lewis, Cliff Robinson, Ray Allen, Travis Knight, Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Caron Butler, Rudy Gay, Jeremy Lamb and of course Walker.
I have noticed Kemba at the NCAA F4 held in Houston, as he torched Kentucky Wildcats in the semifinals and Butler Bulldogs in the final game, winning Most Outstanding Player honors along the way. His stock skyrocketed after the tournament and the then-Charlotte Bobcats selected him as a lottery pick in 2011 draft.
He was at times criticized for questionable shot selection and a penchant for playing out of control, and his height was a concern. Nevertheless, Walker drew comparisons with Mr. Crossover, Tim Hardaway – one of the premier point guards in the 90s. Also, considering his speed, energy, leadership and size one could not resist but compare Kemba with Allen Iverson, at least style wise. Charlotte management was hoping that they are getting a franchise player, and this season is the proof they were right in assessment.
Walker emerged as an unquestionable team star and guided the Hornets to the franchise-best 48 wins (since establishing the Bobcats in 2004). He topped the 20 ppg mark for the first time in career, cementing himself as the bona fide scorer and primary offensive weapon. He’s done that while posting career-best shooting percentages. Especially noticeable was his improvement in shooting from the long range, hitting 182 three-pointers with above-average 37% accuracy.
His stellar performances made Al Jefferson expendable, and few even noticed that Hornets center has missed 35 games. Two years ago, Big Al was an All-Star. It is truly remarkable how Kemba’s game has developed and what level of maturity he has reached. His mere presence on the court makes his teammates look better, and that is one of the hardest feats to accomplish for a point guard. I’d go as far as saying that Kemba Walker was Top 10 player at his position this year.
Charlotte Hornets: The Sting
For the first time in their short history, the Bobcats/Hornets have a player with superstar potential. Kemba spearheaded league’s Top 10 offense, with the culmination in the game against the Utah Jazz when he scored 52 points, along with 9 boards and 8 assists. That is not only his personal high but also franchise record.
Furthermore, Walker was shooting the lights out against Orlando (40 points), Sacramento (39), LA Lakers (38), New Orleans (35)... and just a couple of nights ago, he scored 34 against Miami in the series-tying win in the first round of the playoffs. Yes, he’s struggling from the field but the Hornets have won their first ever postseason games. The pressure is on the Heat right now, after blowing a 2-0 lead.
In an unheardly bad and weak postseason, the Hornets are giving us a glimmer of hope and entertainment. Love or hate them, you must respect their all-out approach to the game and tenacity they are playing with. With the cripple fight lasting between the Raptors and Pacers, it is completely possible to imagine either Heat or Hornets making it to the Eastern conference finals. For both teams, it would be a great success, but I’m rooting for the MJ’s team this time.
The Hornets fans have a right to dream, and Kemba Walker is the man responsible for giving them that sense of real deal thing coming. They are going as far as he leads them. For the franchise traditionally competing for a better place in the lottery, even one series win would be an accomplishment worth admiring. But not for Kemba. He’s a champion and nothing but the best is good enough for him. The question is, whether or not his teammates are ready to follow his hunger and lead?