#NBAVote Kemba Walker
There. Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about the actual game. First things first: Kemba Walker absolutely went off today, scoring a career and franchise high 52 points over the two overtimes as the Hornets beat the Utah Jazz 124-119. As if that wasn't enough, he also led the team in assists with eight and tied for the rebounding lead with nine. Oh, and he played over 47 minutes, which is basically the equivalent of coming out of the game for one possession if your jersey gets a tear in it.
I could go on and on about Kemba's performance today (to summarize: it was good), but a few other players stood out also. Nicolas Batum also played 47 minutes and made some big plays on both ends of the court. Jeremy Lin had a very nice stretch of offensive play toward the end of the game, including both overtimes. Cody Zeller did a nice job shutting down Utah's inside offense. Marvin Williams was all over the floor, in a good way, and played terrific two-way basketball all game. Frank Kaminsky scored 17 points, and he didn't even play all that much!
That's six players on the Hornets roster who all had very strong games today, and that's in a game where they were missing two typical starters and an important bench player due to injury. I'd certainly be surprised if Kemba had another 50-plus point game this season, but this is the type of team performance that bodes well for the future and should be sustainable (again: not the fifty-point thing. Everything else though).
To talk about the Jazz a little bit, Gordon Hayward absolutely demonstrated why he made the shortlist for the Team USA roster for the upcoming Olympics, scoring 36 points on .500 shooting and leading his team with nine assists. Rudy Gobert didn't look like his usual self on defense (credit to the Hornets coaching staff for creating a gameplan that took Gobert away from the basket as often as possible, and to the players for being able to implement it so well), but Trey Burke nearly made up for it on the opposite end, scoring 25 points including a trio of threes that couldn't have come at a better time for the Jazz and a worse time for the Hornets.
Thankfully, though the Jazz stuck around, most of their individual threats were fairly neutralized, with starters Trey Lyles, Raul Neto, and Rodney Hood all having very poor shooting nights. Credit to the Hornets defense, particularly Zeller, on that-- while there were occasional struggles on the perimeter (Lin still has issues fighting through off-ball screens, Kemba likes to cheat too much to the inside), the team showed why Steve Clifford's defensive system can be so effective, cutting off a lot of ball movement inside the paint. (Utah did score 42 points in the paint, but a lot of those were second-chance points awarded through strong offensive rebounding, which...is still a point of weakness for the Hornets without Al Jefferson).
One more shorter thought on today's game that doesn't involve gushing over Kemba:
Troy Daniels seems to be getting more and more minutes with Jeremy Lamb injured, and it wouldn't surprise me if he eventually sees more minutes than P.J. Hairston even before Michael Kidd-Gilchrist comes back. Daniels is a less complete player than Hairston, but Hairston's defense is still unimpressive, and his shooting has come back down to earth after a surprisingly solid December-- last month, Hairston shot .381 from three. In January, it's gone back down to .286, which is much more in line with the rest of his season. Daniels isn't great, but he's without question a deep threat. While Hairston's career shooting numbers are .309 from three and .464 True Shooting percentage, Daniels' are .402 from three and .554 TS%. Neither did much in today's win, but it's probably time to consider swapping their roles.