On Tuesday, March 12, fans of the Charlotte Bobcats finally had something to cheer about. The Bobcats stunned the Boston Celtics by a score of 100-74 in one of the most shocking results of the year. It was one of the rare occasions in recent months when the team has been something other than completely embarrassing. After starting the season 7-5, the Bobcats have gone 7-45 since, and are a lot closer to last year’s team (aka the Worst Team In NBA History) than we might have thought at the beginning of the year. Still, the news isn’t all dreary in Charlotte; while the team is in the cellar for now, they may have found the man to lead them out of it in second-year guard Kemba Walker.
When Walker entered the 2011 NBA draft, there was a fair amount of hype around him. In his final season at Connecticut, he led the Huskies to a national championship while exciting fans with his electrifying play, and became a household name in the process. After this, is draft stock rose considerably, as he was taken with ninth overall pick by the Bobcats. The pick was met with excitement, as fans looked at Walker–along with Bismack Biyombo–to lead the Bobcats into the next decade.
After the first season, things weren’t going so well. Beyond the obvious problem of the Bobcats’ horrific record, Walker was really struggling out there. While sharing point guard duties with D.J. Augustin, Walker shot a lowly .366 from the field, an indication that he wasn’t quite used to the NBA just yet. Now, plenty of rookies struggle to shoot in their inaugural season (just look at Austin Rivers), but the struggles of a the team as a whole amplified Walker’s shooting woes. How could a fan base look at a player as someone to build a franchise around when he’s throwing up bricks left and right and the team can’t win a game to save their lives? After that rookie campaign, the hype surrounding Walker dwindled considerably.
Luckily, he’s picked it up in year two, raising his shooting percentage to .421 which, while not great is at least passable. More importantly, Walker is now averaging 17.2 points per game and is demonstrating the excellent natural scoring ability that made him so dangerous during his days at UConn. Walker hasn’t gotten a lot of hype from the media this season, probably because Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving have gotten the lion’s share of media attention and also because no matter how good your numbers are, they can only be so impressive when you’re getting them on the worst team in the league.
Still, Walker is the last person to blame for the ineptitude of the Bobcats. It’s an extremely young, undermanned team and one player can only do so much. Walker’s 2012-13 season is somewhat analogous to what Brook Lopez did on the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets, who finished a league worst 12-70. Lopez played extremely well that year, but rarely received media hype because of how bad the team was. Walker is in the same boat. He’s playing well, but the supporting cast is dreadful and he can’t win games by himself. Once Michael Kidd-Gilchrist develops his game a bit more and some of the dead weight gets moved out, Walker might be able to take this team somewhere. For now, they’re trapped in the cellar, but at least the much-improved play of Walker provides a glimmer of hope.