By Matt Rochinski, hornets.com
2014-15 Season in Review | Kemba Walker
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After matching his career high of 17.7 points and setting new career marks with 6.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds along with 1.2 steals in 35.8 minutes in 2013-14, Charlotte inked Walker to a new contract extension on Oct. 30, 2014, assuring he’d be the face of the franchise for at least another four seasons.
“Kemba embodies everything we want in a Charlotte Hornet,” said General Manager Rich Cho. “He’s got a strong work ethic and really has improved over the last three years. He’s a true professional, a great competitor and a terrific teammate. We’re just ecstatic to have him sign the extension.”
With news of his extension having broke prior to the Home Opener against Milwaukee on Oct. 29, the pieces were in place for Walker and Charlotte to make history and they did just that. On a night dubbed “The Comeback,” Walker hit the game-tying 3-pointer that helped to erase a 24-point deficit and force overtime. Walker continued to be the hero in the extra session, knocking down a step-back jumper with 5.1 seconds remaining to give the Hornets a 108-106 victory in their return to the Queen City.
It wouldn’t be Walker’s only game winner of the season though. On Dec. 5, 2014 against New York with the Hornets trailing 102-101, Walker drove past Pablo Prigioni and was able to get around Amar’e Stoudemire at the rim as time expired. He did it again on Jan. 7 against New Orleans, hitting an off-balance, 11-foot bank shot with 1.6 seconds left while drawing a foul on Jrue Holiday. Walker connected on the free throw to give the Hornets a 97-94 lead before Marvin Williams hit another free throw following a Pelicans turnover for the 98-94 win.
Despite the 6-19 start to the season, it was Walker who seemingly said enough was enough and refused to let his teammates fold as the holidays approached. In an eight-game stretch from Dec. 15-27, Walker averaged 24.3 points, 5.6 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 2.0 steals while leading Charlotte to a 4-4 record. During that stretch, Walker had six games of 20+ points and two 30+ point games, including a career-best 42 points on Dec. 27, 2014 against Orlando. Walker scored 35 points in the second half, the most points by any player in any half to that point in the NBA this season and the most in a half in Charlotte NBA history. Walker scored 19 points in the third quarter, the most points he had scored in a quarter in his career, and his 15 field goals were also a career high.
“To me it always gets back to the same thing – (NBA players) are going to respect the competitors and the workers, and he’s exceptional at both,” Head Coach Steve Clifford said of his point guard. “When you’re one of the hardest workers and one of the best competitors, people are going to respect you, and I think that’s what he is.
Ringing in the New Year
Kemba continued to step up for the Hornets when things looked bleak as the calendar turned to 2015. Charlotte lost Al Jefferson to a left groin strain on Dec. 29, 2014 against Milwaukee and Big Al would subsequently miss nine games at the start of the New Year. With Jefferson out, Walker put the Hornets on his shoulders, helping lead the team to a 10-4 (.714) record in the month of January, posting the second-best winning percentage in the Eastern Conference behind only Atlanta and the fourth-best in the NBA. Walker averaged 23.6 points (ninth in the NBA), 4.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds in the month, ranking him second in scoring behind Kyrie Irving (23.8) at the point guard position.
During arguably the Hornets best month of the season, Walker scored at least 28 points in six consecutive games played from Jan. 3-14, the longest streak in Charlotte NBA history, passing Glen Rice’s previous record of five games set from January 15-24, 1997. Walker was also named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played Jan. 5-11 after leading the Hornets to a perfect 4-0 record on the week. Walker led the NBA in both scoring and field goals made for the week, averaging 30.3 points and 11.0 field goals.
Get Well Kemba
As hot as Walker was the first three weeks of January, an injury sidelined him later in the month. After trying to play through the pain of a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee, the decision was made to have Walker undergo a surgical procedure on Jan. 28 to repair the tear.
“I’ve had the injury since high school. It flares up every once in a while during the season, but at this point, it’s hurting me a little more than usual,” Walker said before the surgery. “We just want to take care of it and take some of the pressure off of it.”
Walker missed 18 games from Jan. 24-March 10 – the longest stretch he’s missed in his NBA career - before returning against the Kings on March 11.
Back in the Game
Walker scored six points in 16 minutes in his return on March 11 against the Kings at Time Warner Cable Arena. He came off the bench for four games, averaging 9.0 points, 3.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds in 23.2 minutes before returning to the starting lineup on March 20 in Sacramento. In final 16 games back as a starter, Walker posted averages of 15.6 points, 5.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds and had four 20+ point games as the Hornets finished the season 4-12.
“(The surgery) was something that I had to do and I’m happy I got it done,” Walker said in his end-of-season interview. “I’m feeling good. I won’t do anything different and will still have a pretty good summer (working out and getting stronger), so I’m looking forward to it.”
Walker – like Cho, Clifford and all of his Hornets teammates – were very forthcoming at season’s end that 2014-15 did not work out the way any of them had expected. The NBA Playoffs and winning a playoff series were always the goal, but the Hornets did not get there. Walker expects that fact to fuel the Hornets even more in the offseason as the team strives to get back to the postseason.
“Of course (the season) was disappointing,” he said. “We just have to try and look forward and get better this summer. We all have a lot of goals coming into next season and we have to be better… There was a lot of adversity this year, but it will ultimately make us stronger.”
Walker has many building blocks in place already. He ranked sixth in the NBA in assists per turnover (3.2), 18th in steals per turnover (0.9), 24th in assists (5.1) and 25th in scoring (17.3), but he’s not even close to satisfied. Walker has unfinished business in Charlotte as he strives to make the Hornets a winner again.
“Thank you guys for believing in me – for giving me this chance and locking me in for another four years,” Walker said when he signed his extension. “I think I kind of made it clear that this is where I want to be for as long as possible. I’d love to end my career here. I love the city of Charlotte. I love the fans and I love representing everyone around this city.”