Kemba Walker’s career in Charlotte has been a roller-coaster ride.
Walker finished his college career on a high note in 2011. He was voted a consensus first-team All-American and won the Bob Cousy award given to the nation’s best point guard, won the Big East Tournament MVP and won the national title with UConn.
That same year, Walker was drafted No. 9 overall by the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats went 7-59 and set the record for the worst winning percentage in a season (.106) during his rookie campaign. Walker became a full-time starting point guard the following season, as Charlotte went 21-61 (.256) and missed the playoffs.
After winning 28 combined games in his first two seasons, the Bobcats advanced to the playoffs before being swept by the Miami Heat in the first round.
The Bobcats then became the Hornets for the first time since 2002. Walker shot a career-low 30 percent from beyond the arc as Charlotte missed the playoffs.
Last season, Walker averaged a career-high 20.9 points on a career-best 43 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the arc.
Charlotte is off to a blistering 5-1 mark so far this season, as Walker has carried the scoring load. He is averaging a career-high 24.3 points on a career-best 49 percent from the field and 42.7 percent beyond the arc. Walker ranks fifth in scoring, eighth in field goal percentage and 10th in three-point percentage among all NBA point guards.
— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) November 8, 2016
With that in mind, Walker discussed his NBA journey with Basketball Insiders and what the future holds for the Hornets this season.
“It’s been fun,” Walker told Basketball Insiders. “From winning a national championship to coming into the league and not being on a good team, at all. We lost. We only won seven games. My first two years were pretty rough, but looking back at it now, it’s prepared me for days like this. It’s humbled me, it taught me not to take things for granted.”
After making the playoffs last season and bursting out of the gate to begin this season, where does Charlotte rank in the East now?
“I’m not sure,” Walker replied. “We’re just trying to take it one game at a time right now. But, you know, we’re just trying to get back to the playoffs and really just trying to go from there. I don’t really know, you can never really tell; we just play and we just try to win as much as possible. That’s the plan right now.”
Despite losing starting-caliber players such as Jeremy Lin to the Brooklyn Nets and Courtney to the New York Knicks in free agency, Walker believes Charlotte has enough to make it to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in his tenure.
“We have guys who are capable of helping this team and I’m happy with the guys we have,” Walker said. “Of course, I’m happy for Jeremy and Courtney, who really deserve the contracts they have and deserve to be on the team that they’re on. Jeremy, he deserves to be a starter in our league – he’s a starting point guard and he’s a great player. He showed everyone last year and he’s showing everyone now, he’s playing really well. Courtney, he’s in a great situation in New York – great group of guys around him, great teammates and he fits in perfectly with them. I’m really happy for those guys.”
For Charlotte to remain on this blistering pace, Walker will need to continue playing at an All-Star level. According to Walker, the best way for him to earn his first All-Star nomination is for the team to continue to succeed.
“Just win,” Walker said. “That’s what it’s all about. The more we win, the better things that happen for me and my teammates. Really, that’s really it, just have to win.”
Charlotte’s roster is loaded with proven college players who have become solid NBA role players such as Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Roy Hibbert and Jeremy Lamb. Nicolas Batum has also become a consistent 14-point-per-game scorer in his time with Charlotte. What makes Walker so valuable for Charlotte is his willingness to take the game’s biggest shots down the stretch and carry the weight of the offense on his shoulders when it matters most.
“I’ve been blessed to take big shots in my career as I went along and been able to make them,” Walker said. “Starting from college, even high school, I’ve been in those kind of situations. [I appreciate] the people around me allowing me to take the shots and trusting me to take them, regardless of the outcome. That’s really what it is.
“Of course, when you’re able to make them, sometimes it gives you confidence. But like I said, for the most part, the thing that gives me the most confidence is my coaching staff and my teammates because they’re the ones who want me to take those big shots in those big moments. They kind of just make things easier upon me.”
If Walker continues to come through in the clutch and his teammates continue to fill the vacated roles of Lin and Lee, Charlotte will return to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2002 and Walker may be an All-Star for the first time in his career.
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