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Selfless Kemba Walker taking charge on defense

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Kemba Walker’s great start to the season on offense has deservedly received praise. Meanwhile, Walker has also excelled at drawing charges and is, in fact, the best point guard in the league at it.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Saturday, November 19. The visiting Charlotte Hornets are playing the second game of a back-to-back against the New Orleans Pelicans. A surging Pelicans team has dragged the game to an overtime session after a fourth quarter comeback.

With two minutes to go in the OT, the Pels have a two-point lead, the ball and a red-hot Anthony Davis – who already has 32 points to his name – on their side.

On the ensuing possession Jrue Holiday uses the lure of a Davis screen to fool Nicolas Batum, cross him over and penetrate into the heart of the defense. His drive to the basket gets interrupted by Charlotte’s Kemba Walker, though, who steps in front of his path and draws the contact for an offensive foul.

The basket doesn’t count.

Despite the eventual loss, Walker effectively gave the Hornets another shot at the win after the team had let a 14-point lead slip out of their hands in the fourth period.

Sacrificing his body to make a defensive play isn’t anything new for Charlotte’s point guard. Only two weeks ago at Brooklyn he stopped a Bojan Bogdanovic fast break and a Sean Kilpatrick drive to the basket within a minute and 20 seconds of each other.

He did so in the same exact manner as at New Orleans. Walker read the play, positioned himself in front of the opponent and willingly received the blow.

Taking charges is a skill mostly reserved to the wily big man. When used precisely it can help an athletically-challenged front court player as a means of rim protection.

Obviously, it doesn’t mean that perimeter players can’t be good at drawing charges. Heck, Shane Battier might be the most well-known trickster of this kind in the NBA’s history.

However, most of such collisions take place in the paint. That’s a space mostly occupied by big men who will be the ones to rack up the most impressive charge-taking totals.

Despite that, Kemba Walker, the quick jitterbug he is, has sneaked in among those ranks for the second straight season. Walker currently is one of the nine NBA players to have drawn at least five charges for the season, per NBAminer.com.

The rest of the pack are 6-8 or taller, with Dallas’s Wesley Matthews being the only other perimeter player.

This isn’t any small sample size theater either. Last season Kemba was tied with Luis Scola and Jerami Grant at 19 for the third most charges drawn in the whole league. Only Ersan Ilyasova and DeMarcus Cousins registered more of them than Walker.

While Walker’s total for the 2015-16 season was a new career-high for him, the point guard has done this since his rookie year (Kemba drew 11 charges in 2011-12). The New York native has drawn an impressive 66 charges (plus six in the postseason) total for his NBA career.

Just as it happens on the offensive end, where Walker often can be found blazing through the taller timber around the basket, he doesn’t wary from using his quickness to take physical punishment on defense.

The speedy guard often will sniff out actions from the weak side and choose the most painful way to stop them.

That even applies to getting in front of rolling centers.

Most of his magic is done against other point guard brethren, though.

Walker’s an expert at sensing where the offensive player is headed with the ball and beating him to the spot.

Stopping fast breaks by planting feet in front of the restricted area is one thing. Kemba will also guess the direction of an opponent trying to side-step him.

Watching him jump in front of euro steps is a thrill.

Good luck getting any fast break points against the Hornets, while we’re at it. The team presently is headed for a fourth season in a row of leading the league in TOV%. Only the late 1980s Denver Nuggets have done so (they did it five times in a row).

(Though Charlotte currently is third in the league for this season, the same applies for DREB%. Four years in a row there is uncharted territory).

Even if you do get the opportunity to run, you have to worry about the sneaky Walker stepping in front of you or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist lurking somewhere right behind you. Both of them routinely stop fast breaks in situations where the odds are against them.

Naturally, the Hornets so far have given up the least field goals from less than five feet with 22 to 18 seconds left in the shot clock in the whole league (basically, layups on fast breaks or layups off rebounds). The team already did so for the whole 2014-15 season.

As for Kemba Walker himself, the idea of drawing a charge to help his team seems just so like him.

Sure, he’ll be exploited on defense due to his size from time to time. It’s hard for one to be a flawless defender at 6-1 (which is being generous) and 180.

But like always, there is a way in which Kemba Walker gives back through irrepressible heart and a will to win.

Even if it means getting bulldozed over by Hassan Whiteside.