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HORNETS VS. KNICKS

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Extraordinary Season Continues for Kemba Walker

By Sam Perley

He’ll be the first one to admit it, but Kemba Walker’s franchise-record 60-point performance in last Saturday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers would have felt a whole lot sweeter had it been the Hornets who had come out on top.  

Following it up with a 43-point showing in last night’s thrilling 117-112 win over the Boston Celtics isn’t a bad consolation prize, though. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Walker (who scored 21 points in the fourth quarter alone) is just the sixth player in NBA history to total 40 points after putting up a 60-point game. Joining a club that features only Wilt Chamberlain, Pete Maravich, Michael Jordan, Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant is good company to be in to say the least.  

Through Nov. 19, Walker sits first in the NBA in scoring at 29.6 points per game. Coming into the season, his career high was 23.2 PPG done during the 2016-17 campaign. He’s also taken the league lead in total three-pointers made (65 or just under 4.1 per appearance) and is one of just two players with three 40-point games this season (Damian Lillard). 

“He’s incredible. This is a special player, a special performance and a special start to an NBA season,” said Hornets Head Coach James Borrego after the win over Boston. “Every team is locked in on him. Every scouting report, he’s the number one guy. They put the best defender on him and they have two or three bodies on him every single time and this guy continues to produce for us. He does whatever it takes for us to win.”

Glen Rice – who coincidentally was on hand for Walker’s 60-point game as part of the organization’s 30thYear Anniversary team celebration – holds the Hornets’ single-season points-per-game record (26.8), which was set in 1997. Rice finished that year ranked third in the league in scoring behind only Jordan (29.6) and MVP Karl Malone (27.4).  

Walker is currently knocking down 46.5 percent of his field-goal attempts, also the highest conversion rate of his NBA tenure. Since the start of the 1982-83 season, Jordan, Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Steph Curry are the only guards to average at least 29.0 points while shooting 45.0 percent from the field or better. 

“I don’t know. I’m just playing basketball,” said Walker, when questioned on his big start to the year. “You know, of course, my belief in God has been helping me play the way I’m playing. But for the most part, I’ve just been working on my game. I come in here every night and get shots up, work on my game to make sure I’m staying as ready as possible for these kinds of moments. My teammates were looking for me, my coaching staff – they put me in great situations to score the basketball and, you know, I’ve just been making some shots.”

What is it that sets Walker apart from other players though? His exceptional ability to create separation on shots off the dribble is rivaled only by his craftiness and finishing power around the rim. He’s not necessarily the fastest player in the league, but he is one of the quickest. He can change directions in mere fractions of a second, forcing opposing defenses to adjust coverages at a moment’s notice. 

In addition to the impressive, high-volume scoring, Walker is still dishing out a career-high-tying 6.1 assists per appearance. That mark is fifth best in the Eastern Conference and tied for 10thhighest overall amongst all NBA point guards to date this year. 

So, is Walker’s statistical explosion sustainable and what does it all mean? Only eight players in NBA history have averaged at least 29.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.0 steal over a full season of play: Jordan, Curry, Wade, LeBron James, Larry Bird, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Rick Barry. It would certainly would be more elite company that Walker would find himself in if in fact, he can keep this pace going. 

And even if he falls off a touch here and there, the likelihood of another All-Star Game nomination (which would be his third straight and in front of a hometown crowd) is still extremely high. Not outside the realm of possibilities is starting the league’s midseason showcase event or making it onto the All-NBA Team, something only Al Jefferson has done as a Charlotte player since the 1999-2000 season. 

To do so, Walker might have to supplant one of last year’s All-NBA guards in Harden, Westbrook, Curry, Lillard, DeMar DeRozan or Victor Oladipo. Regardless of his individual merits and accolades, the overall team success of the Charlotte Hornets (and hopefully not lack thereof) could and likely will be used in the consideration process if it indeed gets to that point come April. 

Walker has already accomplished so much in his eight-year NBA career, although it seems like he’s just now finally hitting his prime. Like Borrego stated, he’s an incredibly special player who is on track to have one incredibly special season. 

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