You can talk about the points or the assists or the steals, and all of those illustrate Kemba Walker’s talents.
However, what point guard Walker brings to the Charlotte Hornets above all is the juice: He is irreplaceable when it comes to injecting this team with emotional energy.
The Hornets were on a four-game losing streak. Worse yet, there was a deficit of purpose and passion in how they played. Walker missed the past two games with a left shoulder contusion. Monday he was back and, frankly, the Orlando Magic didn’t stand much of a chance.
Walker finished with 29 points, seven assists and three steals. He got to the foul line 14 times. Seven of those points came in the fourth quarter, when Walker pushed the ball in transition on a Magic team huffing and puffing after playing the Knicks Sunday.
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“I feel like when I’m not around, things are different,” said Walker, who had his 200th game of 20 or more points, “and then when I come back, it changes. That’s the kind of guy I am. I’m the leader of this team. My team goes as I go.
“My mood, my attitude, trickles down to everybody else.”
Or as fellow guard Nic Batum described, his job becomes easier for Walker’s presence. Batum had a solid game Monday with 11 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. But as Batum described post-game, he isn’t the closer Walker is.
Part of the reason the then-Bobcats drafted Walker ninth overall in 2011 is the team owner – basketball icon Michael Jordan – saw a resemblance to himself as far as Walker’s heart and competitive zeal.
It took a few seasons for Walker to refine his skills to this exceptional level. Two summers ago, he made a major leap in his 3-point accuracy, which makes it so much harder to guard him in the pick-and-roll.
More recently, he worked at his free-throw percentage. Great players shoot in the 90 percent vicinity; Walker entered this game at 86 percent, and went 14-of-14 from the line Monday.
Add all that up: It’s his skills. It’s his creative, weaving dribbles. And it’s his remarkable toughness. Walker is listed at 6-1 and 184 pounds. The pounding he took to earn 14 free-throw attempts (matching the Magic’s total as a team) is reminiscent of NBA great Allen Iverson.
“We have a guy who not only makes the plays that he does, but just his natural leadership ability,” forward Marvin Williams described. “In the first half, we kind of had a sluggish start. You could see how he picked it up in the third quarter” with nine points.
“In the fourth quarter, he’s gasping for air, but still every time he’s getting the ball he’s running it down their backsides. The natural leader that he is, you miss that when he’s not around.”
Walker knows that. He takes ownership again and again.
“When I’m out there, enjoying the game and being intense, my teammates follow,” Walker concluded.
“They look to me for certain things like that. When it’s time to close things out, they want me with the basketball. They want me to make plays.”
They want him bringing the juice.