Kemba Walker didn’t go scoreless Tuesday, but he came darn close to it.
The Charlotte Hornets’ leading scorer this season with 23.2 points per game, Walker is usually Charlotte’s go-to bucket getter. When they need a tough layup, there’s Kemba. Down 3 with time expiring? Pass to Kemba.
Tuesday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, a game the Hornets eventually lost 128-114, couldn’t have been further from that.
Down most of the night, the Hornets eventually cut their deficit to five in the third quarter. Typically, that would be Walker’s time.
Not on Tuesday. Walker finished the game with a season-low five points on 1-for-9 shooting. He went 0-for-5 from 3. He short-rimmed shots. He missed left, and he missed right. The irony was, the one shot he did make was his toughest attempt – a fadeaway midrange jumper over 7-foot 76ers center Joel Embiid.
“Still was only 1-for-9,” Walker said, “but I’m not worried.
“I wish I would’ve played better. I wish I would’ve shot better, but I’ve been shooting the ball great as of late, so it happens.”
Walker’s previous low this season was nine points, which he’d recorded twice. Walker has only gone 0-for once in his NBA career – a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder his second season, when he went 0-for-6 – and avoided a second such showing with that late basket over Embiid.
The thing is, those sorts of bad shooting performances happen. You can’t play your absolute best every single game – that’s an unreasonable request from any athlete in any sport. Hornets coach Steve Clifford said as much after the game.
“Listen, he’s not a machine,” Clifford said. “He’s a human being and he’s played at such an incredibly high level all year that, you’re going to have games now and then where you’re not (shooting well).
“I mean he’s been so consistent, so sooner or later you’re not going to get 27 every night. You’re just not.”
Walker has played the most minutes of anyone on the roster this season, averaging just under 35 minutes per game. That number doesn’t figure to drop over the rest of the season, considering backup point guard Michael Carter-Williams may require season-ending surgery. While Walker’s new primary backup, Malik Monk, played relatively well in his 15 minutes Tuesday, Clifford has been reluctant this season to award Monk, or any player for that matter, minutes they haven’t earned.
Add in that the Hornets are still chasing a playoff berth – a distant hope now, but still technically within reach – and Walker’s minutes might actually increase over the last month of the season.
That’s a lot to ask given how much Walker already contributes.
So, is Walker at all worried about his off night? Is there any concern that he is exhausted, or playing too many minutes, or anything along that line of thinking?
“No,” Walker said. “I’m good. I just had a bad shooting night ... It happens.”