Kemba Walker is just one man.
That is the obvious statement, but it’s one that bears repeating in the wake of Monday night’s 105-90 Memphis Grizzlies victory over the Charlotte Hornets. Kemba Walker put up another 15 shots, scoring 17 points, worn down over the course of the night facing one of the league’s best two-way guards in Mike Conley.
The help Walker received came from the bench, where Frank Kaminsky had a career night with 23 points on 9-11 shooting, and both Spencer Hawes and Marco Belinelli dropped 14 points. Overall the Charlotte bench beat the Memphis bench 52 - 30.
The problem for Charlotte was in the starting lineup, where Walker received very little help from his compatriots. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is not an offensive load-bearer, instead exerting his energy to sprinting through cuts and attacking the offensive glass. Roy Hibbert, in for the injured Cody Zeller, put up just 2 points in limited minutes; his role is rim protection, not offensive creation.
Where Walker and the entire Hornets team needs help is from Nic Batum and Marvin Williams. The two players signed contracts totaling $154 million this summer, and Monday night combined for 8 points on 1-13 shooting.
Combined with Saturday’s overtime loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, Marvin Williams is 3-20 over his last two games, both Charlotte losses. Monday against the Grizzlies he went scoreless in 25 minutes, and bringing in only 3 rebounds as the starting power forward. His counterpart on Memphis, JayMichael Green, went 4-4 for 12 points, 8 rebounds and a block. Marvin Williams was outplayed.
The same went for the Hornets’ highest-paid player, as he continues a shaky start to the season. Over the last two games Batum is just 4-17, relying on a handful of free throws each game to stay afloat. Against Memphis he was a game-low -22, unable to support Walker in keeping the offense flowing. While across from him Tony Allen was raining in circus shots, Batum couldn’t get going.
Two losses in a row is not a death sentence, and this team has plenty to be proud of from its 8-5 start. But Monday night Kemba Walker was not brilliant, simply good. And when he isn’t the spitting image of Stephen Curry, he needs help from his expensive running mates in the starting lineup.
Walker didn’t get that help Monday, and the Hornets fell. He didn’t get that help Saturday, and the Hornets fell. If Batum finds a rhythm, and Williams’ shot begins falling, this stretch will be forgotten. But if Batum’s contract-year heroics were a career outlier, and Marvin Williams begins feeling his age, then Steve Clifford and his team will need to find someone else to step up.
With the amount of money this organization spent to retain these players - and the players they let walk to do so - they need the former to happen, and quickly, or this team’s exciting start will fade into a disappointing finish.