MIAMI — There was a stretch last season spanning four games when Charlotte’s Kemba Walker missed 16 consecutive attempts from 3-point range.
That seems unfathomable now.
Walker might have been the surprise of the NBA’s first week by averaging 35.3 points per game, a big number fueled by making 19 shots from 3-point range – more than any player in the league has connected on in the first three games of a season. So in a year when Walker insists he won’t be speaking about his looming free agency, his numbers are doing plenty of talking.
“I always felt that I’ve been always put under the radar,” Walker said. “Underrated, of course.”
That might be changing.
Walker understands there’s a direct correlation between stardom and winning. He’s been an All-Star, he’s probably going to get a monster contract next summer, he played in two NCAA Final Fours at Connecticut and led the Huskies to the 2011 national championship. But if he’s going to reach the level of NBA respect that he’s perpetually seeking, it’s going to take more than 3s.
He’s going to need W’s as well. Walker has played in 537 games with the Hornets, and his team has won only 211 of them. That’s not all his fault, not even close, but Charlotte needs to be better if Walker’s stock is going to soar to that super-elite level.
“It comes with wins,” Walker said. “I know I’m in a small market and things like that, but at the end of the day, I just go out there and I try to do what I need to do to win. That’s really it.”
So far, so good.
The Hornets are 2-1 after an eventful stretch to start the season – rallying from 20 points down only to lose by one to Milwaukee, rolling past Orlando by 32 and then wasting a 26-point lead before hanging on to beat Miami by one point Saturday night. Walker delivered the game winner against the Heat, getting a foul call with a half-second left and making a free throw for a 113-112 victory.
“Our team starts with him,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “He controls the game, but he also understands that he needs trust in his teammates. When he misses a shot, I want him to take the next one.”
That’s been the message Borrego has been hammering into Walker’s mind for weeks.
That’s also been part of the teachings of Walker’s new backup.
Tony Parker‘s influence on Walker cannot be underestimated. Parker won four NBA championships with San Antonio before signing with the Hornets this summer, and he has been part of more wins – 1,001 and counting, including playoffs – than all but six other players in league history. Having Borrego telling him to shoot more, having Parker offering him a different view of the point guard position, it’s all played a role in Walker’s confidence soaring.
“Tony’s helping me read the game in a whole different light,” Walker said. “What to look for, what not to, he’s amazing with that kind of stuff. It’s an honor to have him around.”
The Hornets are 2-0 so far on their current four-game road trip, the first time they’ve started a multigame swing away from home with consecutive victories in two years. They go to Toronto on Monday, and Walker says his approach for that game and every other that awaits this season won’t deviate much.
“Just go out there and leave it all on the court,” Walker said. “That’s all I’m trying to do. And I think that’s where the respect comes from, the way I play each and every night. That’s my number one goal, regardless of if I have zero or if I have 30, I’m going to go out there and leave it all on the floor.”