Kemba Walker has always claimed to be the leader of the Charlotte Hornets internally, but publicly has never been one to show it. Which is fine. A lot of players in the NBA prefer to be locker room leaders, or choose to lead by example rather than vocally. It really depends on what's most effective, and what methods will reach certain players.
This year however there has been a change in the way Walker chooses to approach his leadership. Last night, Walker scored 34 points X-X shooting, and bombed away from 3-point range with seven makes from deep. It was a huge bounce back game after a less than stellar performance the night before in Toronto. Of course, this stuff happens a lot and usually it's not worth mentioning. Sometimes players have bad games, and other times they play well. However, it's what Walker said post game that really made his bounce back performance noticeable
WATCH: @KembaWalker on tonight's victory & his 34-point performance vs. the Knicks #WinWithWalker (@FoxSportsSE)https://t.co/CcNwcot53l— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) April 7, 2016
"I was pretty disappointed in my play last night. I wanted to come out here and play better for my teammates, and myself."
It's one thing to have a bad game and come out the next night playing better, but it's another to acknowledge that bad game and try to make a statement with your next performance. This is just another example of Walker's change in leadership style this season. There have already been comments about him being more vocal in the locker room this season, and it looks like he's getting more vocal through the media as well. Always mentioning his teammates, or taking a moment to say how he could have played better despite setting a career high in points.
Kemba Walker, after scoring 52 points. pic.twitter.com/stBSAvS0F0— Joshua B. Priemski (@HoopPlusTheHarm) January 18, 2016
It's moments like these that have shown Walker's growth as a leader this season. This post game stuff might seem pretty unimportant, but the people that players want to follow are the ones that put up teammates over themselves, and acknowledges mistakes they made.
Of course, Walker is still leading by example as well. The next time the Hornets make a big run, and Walker is on the bench, keep an eye who is the first one off the bench to congratulate teammates following a timeout. More often than not it's Walker, and of course everybody else is following him. This is a minor thing that a shockingly small amount of teams do, and it's the kind of stuff that creates good chemistry among teammates. Chemistry is an area that Hornets players very often praise.
Walker is having a great year individually as a player, and the numbers he's put up this year have shown that, but his greatest impact in a fantastic season has arguably been his leadership. That leadership will give the Hornets a player they can follow into the playoffs.
Notes and Observations
Al Jefferson proved last night that, while obviously not the same player, can still have nights where he has a major impact. 24 points on 21 shots isn't the most efficient mark in the world, but the way he drew in the defense and forced the Knicks defense to adjust to him is such a valuable asset to a Hornets team that moves the ball as well as this one does.
Frank Kaminsky started for the third time in his career last night and made the most of it with his 16 points. In March he definitely hit a rookie wall with a handful of really poor outings, but he appears to have gotten his legs back under him right before the playoffs.
Cody Zeller ended up playing less minutes than Al Jefferson last night, but that's okay because it was just one of those games where that worked out. Zeller still had an impact on the game, but this shows that Clifford will go with the better matchup late and against Robin Lopez that was Big Al.
Charlotte looked "better" last night, but it's a little concerning they needed 34 points from Walker to beat a pretty bad Knicks team. Nicolas Batum is obviously important, but they really have enough talent on the team to play better than that even without the second creator. Luckily, the Hornets only play one more team for the rest of the season that's above .500 so they shouldn't have to worry too much about injuries sending them in a tailspin late.