The Charlotte Hornets' offense runs through one of the few true post scorers in center Al Jefferson, who has so many moves at his disposal that teammates often spread the floor, stand around the 3-point line and watch as he attacks the defense. If you play with an immovable, 6-10 beast of a man on the block at all times, your opportunities to drive will be limited. Far too often this season, Hornets point guard Kemba Walker has been relegated to the perimeter, a slasher devoid of lanes through which to penetrate. MORE: Hornets lose Jefferson for four weeks | LeBron rehabs in Miami | Black History Month collection But that changed over Charlotte's past four games. With Jefferson and Lance Stephenson out for injuries, the offense focused on Walker. He answered the call — and the
The Charlotte Hornets' offense runs through one of the few true post scorers in center Al Jefferson, who has so many moves at his disposal that teammates often spread the floor, stand around the 3-point line and watch as he attacks the defense.
If you play with an immovable, 6-10 beast of a man on the block at all times, your opportunities to drive will be limited. Far too often this season, Hornets point guard Kemba Walker has been relegated to the perimeter, a slasher devoid of lanes through which to penetrate.
MORE: Hornets lose Jefferson for four weeks | LeBron rehabs in Miami | Black History Month collection
But that changed over Charlotte's past four games. With Jefferson and Lance Stephenson out for injuries, the offense focused on Walker. He answered the call — and the
Walker averaged 30.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists in games against the Magic, Celtics, Pelicans and Raptors, becoming only the second Charlotte player in the past 15 season to post three consecutive 30-point games, according to NBA.com. The last man to do it, predictably, was Jefferson, as he completed the feat last January.
To put Walker's run in perspective, it matches streaks put together by Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook this season.
"I try to take my opportunities," Walker said. "When I do have the opportunity to score, that's what I do. I know when to be aggressive. That just came with maturity."
What's more, the majority of Walker's performances included some form of late-game heroics. Whether he used his trademark step-back jumper or an absurd and-1 floater to close out opponents, Walker has been in the driver's seat, and he couldn't look more comfortable in it.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford is well aware of Walker's thirst to make the big play in critical moments, Walker said.
"He knows, he knows who wants it," Walker said. "Even my teammates, as soon as we get in those situations, they're like, 'Kemba, win the game.' When you have a bunch of guys who have that much confidence in you, of course I want to take that shot."
At the heart of Walker's improved performance is a level of offensive license he did not have earlier in the season. Walker is known as a lightning-quick guard with a superb handle. His ability to break down defenses and cause havoc in the lane is by far his best trait.
Through the first 33 games of the Hornets season, that trait was stifled, however. During this recent four-game run, Walker is 9-of-22 on shots within six feet or less. Through the Hornets' first 33 games, he was 32-of-80 on shots from the same distance.
While those 22 attempts in the paint don't seem like much, that's an average of 5.5 drives to the basket for point-blank shots, more than double the 2.42 drives per game Walker averaged over the first 33 games of the season. Perhaps the best example of this came in the Hornets' Jan. 3 game in Orlando.
The fact that Walker added a few tricks didn't hurt, either. Clifford explained new wrinkles in Walker's game that helped his progression.
"The two things that he's really added from last year are dribbling down along the baseline," Clifford said after Wednesday's win against the Pelicans, "where he just scores it quick, always does the little flip or he dribbles all the way through. It causes indecision for the defense. And, as we learn to play off that, it opens things up. And the other thing is he's added a catch-and-shoot aspect."
Many of Walker's signature plays come near or around the elbow of the free-throw line, and he's getting there more now, too. Walker took 22 shots between 15 and 22 feet over the past four games and hit 11 of them, which is good for 50 percent. Before that, he hit 46-of-115 attempts, or 40 percent.
In today's NBA, the shot Walker takes most is looked at as a negative, but he is often at his best in the midrange. In what could be the best streak of his career, Walker has taken 5.5 shots between 15 and 22 feet. Conversely, he attempted only 3.48 per game through the first 33 games.
"If you watch his pick and roll game, he's in the paint, he's putting so much heat on the defense, and he's doing it in different ways" Clifford said. "He's crossing over, like tonight he had the two big plays. He can crossover and get to the middle into the paint and make the little step-backs."
Some of this can be chalked up to the fact that the Hornets simply need Walker more at this point. Based on that need, he has taken more shots than usual. Walker does average 22.4 field-goal attempts per game in the month of January, while his season average sits at 16.5.
This opportunity for Walker to reign as the Hornets' unquestioned No. 1 option could serve the Hornets well in the future. They are 14-24 and in need of some sort of overhaul. That could come on defense, which was their calling card last season, or through Walker on offense.
Aside from his scoring ability, Jefferson's best trait is his ability to attract help and spread the floor for shooters. Well, the Hornets don't necessarily have a team of flamethrowers.
Through much of the early season, Walker struggled with his outside shot. Walker's 3-point shooting hangs at 32.0 percent this season, which is right around his career average. What that means for the Hornets is that their two best players aren't a perfect fit, but they can be a productive one, as was the case for much of last season.
For Walker, this opportunity to be more creative against screen and rolls and use early attacks in transition should serve as a blueprint for how to get driving opportunities when Jefferson returns.
But Walker should not be the only one who makes concessions for the betterment of the team. Jefferson has a sufficient midrange game, and he could spend more time in that space and create more room for Walker and others to navigate in the lane.
And while the offense should change on some level once Jefferson returns, Walker's approach should not.
"I just want to win," Walker said. "My whole thing is put the ball in the hole, or find someone if I draw two defenders. But for the most part, I want to put the ball in the hole myself. Those last-second shots, I just want to win."