Kemba Walker needs some assistance. The talented point guard will make his first All-Star appearance in a few short days, and Walker certainly earned his bid. Through the first “half” of the season, Walker is averaging career highs in scoring (22.5 points per game), field goal percentage (45 percent) and three-point percentage (40 percent) while serving as the engine for the Charlotte Hornets. In fact, Walker’s early-season play generated enough buzz where he was a no-doubt inclusion on the All-Star team despite a banner year for many other Eastern Conference point guards.
His team, however, has struggled mightily and their issues have flown under the radar. Since Jan. 1, the Hornets are just 5-17 and that has transformed Charlotte from a virtual playoff lock to a team on the outside looking in when it comes to the top eight teams in the conference. For good measure, the team brings an active skid that involves 11 losses in the past 12 games. What in the world happened?
The Hornets currently own a superior net rating (+0.4 points per 100 possessions) to the Atlanta Hawks while sitting eight games behind in the standings. That is simply one example of Charlotte’s bizarre statistical profile, and it is one headlined by ineptitude in the clutch. NBA.com tells us that the Hornets are just 3-11 when “clutch” situations arrive since Jan. 1, and they are being outscored by a ghastly 29.6 points per 100 possessions (for a bottom three mark in the league).
When expanding that to the full season, the results are better (-8.3) but Charlotte still struggles to close games this season and it has bitten them in the standings.
For me, it is too early to outright panic when it comes to the Hornets, if only because the East is so topsy-turvy and it is fairly clear that Charlotte’s struggles are correctable. In the same breath, Steve Clifford and company have watched as any wiggle room they had evaporated and the Hornets remain an extremely interesting thought exercise for the diehard NBA fan this season.
Where will the Hornets lead in this pre-All Star break edition of NBA Power Rankings? Let’s find out.