Kemba Walker has been sky-walkin' and straight-talkin' New Yorkin’ since his days growing up in the concrete jungle, making his name as a small, flashy and bulldoggish point guard on the hardwood and hallowed grounds of the Bronx and Harlem..
He was a master craftsman at every level. In high school at Rice, he was a hoops god. At Connecticut, he had one of the greatest individual scoring tournaments in NCAA history as he lead underdog UConn and Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun to the 2011 NCAA Championship.
His stamp of greatness signified the glorious end of the incredible Calhoun Era at Connecticut and the beginning of Kemba’s pro journey as the ninth pick of the Charlotte Bobcats in that year’s draft.
After five years of steady improvement and leading an undermanned Charlotte team by making spectacular clutch shots and successfully battling an array of prolific NBA point guards on a nightly basis, Walker is averaging a career-high 23 points and 40 percent from trey world, to go along with 5.4 assists and four rebounds per game. He's leading a squad that is 23-23 and a surprise seventh-seed in the East as we approach the All-star break.
For that, Walker has finally been awarded an All-star nod and named as a reserve for the first time in his magnificent career. The East is point guard heavy and Walker could have been the odd man out, but the consistency of his game, the captivating passion and energy in which he brings and his New York state of mind has been acknowledged by the NBA community.
“The beauty of him is he has the ability to draw the help defender and make the right play,” coach Steve Clifford said. “He’s always been good at it. He has good feel for it. Some guys get determined to score anyway. He’s never been like that. As long as he’s willing to make the right play, which is one of his strengths, then we’re good to go.”
As mentioned, the East has a proliferation of high-scoring guards who will be joining Walker on the Eastern squad in New Orleans -- starters Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan and reserves Kyle Lowry, John Wall and Isaiah Thomas -- but Walker’s overall impact on his team’s success is undoubtedly what gave him the edge.
The Hornets are 5.6 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents when Walker is on the court, and 5.4 points worse when he’s not. Add in the fact that he plays with a supporting cast of cats like Cody Zeller and the team’s offensive talent pool outside of Walker is slim. Kemba is as important to his team as any player in the NBA.
The Hornets definitely feel that way and the franchise pushed forward a brilliant marketing campaign starring Walker as the old Chuck Norris character to help get him recognition for his cowboy crazy skills.
Walker's lack of popularity just shows us how markets still matter very much in the NBA and how modesty only works for guys who win multiple championships like Tim Duncan. As electrifying as Kemba's style is, his persona wreaks with non-controversy.
It’s almost totally averse to the environment he grew up in. He plays ball with that flamboyance and city grit, but then he falls back into a Southern chill, with very little self-promotion after he leaves the arena. To some degree, it has hurt him almost as much as not being drafted by the Knicks.
I always felt that would be his perfect home, but of course, the Knicks wouldn’t be so lucky. At least Knicks fans get to see the hometown kid tonight as Charlotte visits Madison Square Garden.
Walker will undoubtedly be eager to put on a show in an arena that is like a second home to him, against a team that welcomes humiliating defeats and career performances by players who should be wearing their uniform.