Initially, I wanted to write an article looking at who the most clutch players on the Charlotte Hornets roster were. I looked up stats on NBA Miner and Basketball Reference to try to learn as much as possible on the subject. (Note: if you are bored, take time to look at those sites. TONS of great information there.) I wanted to see how players like Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin and Troy Daniels compared to one another.
During my searches though, one name kept appearing over and over and over again, not just among the Charlotte Hornets, but among the entire National Basketball Association.
It should come to no surprise to anyone who has paid attention to the team that that name is Kemba Walker. What might come as a surprise is just how well Walker is in clutch time.
First, let us define what clutch is. I defined it as "the shots that occur during the 4th quarter or overtime, with less than five minutes remaining, and neither team ahead by more than five points."
I first narrowed me search to include only those who have taken at least 50 field goal attempts. The result was the following chart.
Walker ranks near the bottom of the list, but still ahead of a few big names.
But this is not why people around the country call him "Cardiac Kemba." You need to further narrow the stats down to understand that nickname. So, let's see how the chart looks when we set it to shots in the last two minutes of a game within 5 points among players who have taken at least 25 shots.
Talk about a big rise. An increase of just 3.6 percent in his field goal percent takes Walker from near the bottom of the list to top five.
(Note: Timeout for a quick second. ELFRID PAYTON is at the top of this list? THIS Elfrid Payton??)
Now, what happens if we make the list just players who have taken at least 20 shots in the final minute of a game or overtime in a clutch situation?
Now we have gotten somewhere. Second-best in the league, behind only LeBron James? That, my friends, is impressive.
Let is look at Kemba's growth in clutch time.
The following stats are clutch time stats in the last two minutes of a game or overtime.
What can we take away from this?
1. When push comes to shove, the Hornets are going to Kemba Walker.
With the exception of Monday night/Tuesday morning, the Hornets are giving the ball to Walker and letting him work his magic. In the last two minutes of games in clutch time this season, Walker has attempted 47 field goals, the most on the team. Second on the list, is Batum, who has taken 23 shots (and has made only two, for a woeful 8.7 field goal percentage). Third is Lin, who has taken 11 shots (making four for a 36.4 field goal percentage). Last season in the same scenario, Walker (46) still had more than twice as many shots as Gerald Henderson, who was second on the team with 21 clutch field goal attempts (he made seven of them, for those who were curious).
Even look across the NBA in the above charts, and you'll notice that Walker leads everyone in field goals attempted or is at least near the top, and usually by a considerable margin.
2. Kemba Walker is quickly becoming better and better in clutch situations.
Just look at the last chart above. The stats show that the longer Walker has spent in the Association, the better he has become when his team needs him most. What is most impressive may very well be the jump in field goal and effective field goal percentage from last season to this season.
The question becomes when Walker will even out, or even begin to regress. But, fortunately for Hornets fans, it should be a few years before that begins to happen.
3. The 3-point shot still needs work.
Kemba Walker's 3-point shot has drastically improved this season, but it remains far from what should be Walker's go-to weapon in clutch situations. His percentage from deep is not abysmal, but it is close, particularly given the importance of each shot in such situations. If possible, it's still best for Walker to avoid the 3-ball and focus instead on taking advantage of his handles and driving ability — according to NBAMiner.com, Walker's average made shot distance in clutch scenarios is 11.63 feet from the basket.
4. This can still hurt the Hornets at times.
Being so player-dependant in such scenarios clearly has its downsides. Defenses will always have an idea of what to expect from Charlotte and can key in on Walker, making it harder from him to get his ideal shot off. Even if Walker is having an off night, he is still going to take the last shot, for better or worse. That could, in some scenarios, actually hurt Charlotte's chances at victory.
Just look at the double overtime victory Monday night against the Kings. Walker had the ball almost exclusively in clutch situations down the wire, but you could easily tell how exhausted he was and how it might have been best for a teammate of his to take the shot.
5. This is Kemba Walker, and this is what he does.
Walker has been doing this for years now.
This is who Kemba Walker is, and we shouldn't expect anything less of him.
All stats are from basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.