Glimmer of Hope in Youth

11 04 2012

Two seasons ago, the Charlotte Bobcats team led the league in opponents points per game (93.8) and made a first round playoff appearance. Now? They are finishing up one of the worst NBA campaigns by a franchise as Michael Jordan has become the laughing-stock of owners.

The Sacramento Kings were serious contenders at the start of this decade but haven’t had a winning record or been relevant since Rawle Marshall had his subpar rookie season with the Dallas Mavericks. Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins both have shown the ability to fill up a stat sheet but that hasn’t translated into wins.

Even though these bottom-of-the-barrel teams will finish with yet another disappointing season in 2 1/2 weeks, they each have a similar, undersized bright spot that has emerged as a silver lining.

Kemba Walker came into the NBA with big expectations in large part due to his sensational play during a championship run with Connecticut that labeled him as a “competitor” and a “winner.” (Making Gary McGhee look like the lead actor in “Bambi on Ice” also helped set Walker in the national limelight.)

However, as what happens with many relevant players that are forced to play in Charlotte, he quickly became an irrelevant storyline in the media’s eyes. When a team holds a 7-49 record along with multiple double-digit losing streaks, their players only deserve so much screen time.

Throughout most of the year, Walker has struggled to figure out his shot. His first four months of play consisted of field goal shooting below 40 percent.

Walker has had flashes of spectacular play that remind fans of another speedy, scoring point guard with No. 1 on his jersey. His best game came on January 28 when he posted a triple double (20 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds)… right in the middle of his team’s season high 16-game losing streak.

Even though the Bobcats are in the midst of yet another losing streak (13 games), April has shown that Walker won’t quit on his team just because it hasn’t gone exactly as he hoped it would… wait, why does this sound so familiar? Anyway, he has found the touch, and his numbers are reflecting this find.

April MIN FG% 3P% FT% REB AST PTS
30.2 .402 .440 .818 4.2 5.8 15.8

Other than minutes played and free throw percentage, which have been fairly consistent all year long, every single other statistic here is his highest of any other month.

His more efficient shooting during these six games hasn’t even been the most impressive facet of his play. There aren’t that many point or shooting guards that can bring quality scoring, passing and rebounding all to the floor. Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook both have this ability, and that has played a factor in many considered them as two of the top point guards in the league. Walker looks to have the potential and capability to do this.

Walker’s 6-1, 184 pound frame has led many to believe the kid will have trouble playing alongside the big bodies of the NBA, but Walker has intangibles that can’t be understood by numbers.

“He’s a fighter,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott said earlier in the week. “That’s the one thing when I see Kemba play that I recognize. He’s a young guy who’s out there fighting any time he’s out there on the floor.”

This one month of play can’t erase the fact that he has had a shaky first year filled with many ups and downs for an abysmal team. His “winning” title must be temporarily revoked.

However, he has shown a high-level of play. He has shown this isn’t the end of his improvement. He has shown that later on, something special will be coming soon to an arena near you.

 

The last guy taken in the NBA Draft usually doesn’t have anything riding on his play as Dwayne Collins, Robert Dozier and Semih Erden have shown with their play, or lack there of, the past few seasons.

Isaiah Thomas entered the 2011 NBA Draft unexpectedly after his junior year at Washington. Even though he played extremely well during his tenure as a Husky, most teams couldn’t get over his J.J. Barea-esque height and looked to draft someone taller than 5-9… much taller. He landed right at No. 60.

Thomas made it clear he would use this disrespect as motivation for his rookie season.

“Yes. You know it will,” he said after being drafted. “I will be in the gym tomorrow. While I’m disappointed that some of the players got chosen ahead of me, at the same time, everything happens for a reason. I’m just ready to get after it and show the other 29 teams that they made a mistake.”

Unfortunately, the first few weeks of basketball played out as most teams expected. Thomas seemed unable to handle the change in size of opponents through the first 17 games, averaging only 6.3 points while shooting 30.8 percent from the field.

But as Thomas said, he “got after it.”

MONTH MIN FGM-FGA 3PM-#PA REB AST PTS
Dec. 8.5 0.8-3.0 0.5-1.0 1.3 1.0 4.5
Jan. 18.7 2.5-6.6 1.0-3.2 1.7 2.6 7.6
Feb. 25.5 4.5-9.6 1.4-3.5 3.0 4.4 12.2
March 29.9 4.7-9.7 1.3-3.5 3.3 4.9 13.6
April 35.2 5.7-12.3 2.0-5.0 3.0 4.3 16.7

His last three months of play have shown why he almost gave Gus Johnson a heart attack because of his clutch play. He has dealt with a coaching change, lineup shuffles, immature teammates and a franchise that still doesn’t know if it will be staying in Sacramento. This didn’t matter for Thomas as he has continuously grown on the court and adjusted to his opponents.

The 23-year-old has shown the kind of heart and energy that made J.J. Barea a vital piece to the Dallas Mavericks championship run. He plays through adversity, and this innate toughness is a big reason why he currently sits atop NBA.com’s Rookie Ladder.

Thomas, like Walker, can’t seem to influence his Kings (19-40) enough to pick up wins. During his best play of late, his team has lost 10 of 12. Thomas may have pretty statistics, but he won’t impress his peers and analysts if there isn’t a “W” beside the numbers.

Even with his team’s losing ways, if Thomas continues to improve during this upcoming offseason, he could be a building block for this team. Before Tyreke Evans knows it, he could become an expendable piece while a player drafted 56 spots below him becomes a more fitting player to rely on.

As these young men wrap up the end of their rookie season, they have undoubtedly proven one thing: they belong in this league.

Just as certain players (Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant) have a knack for coming up big when it matters most, some players have the ability to give more than one hundred percent. Thomas and Walker have this. They have a certain determination and resilience that is necessary for “little guys” to make it in NBA.

Even though the Bobcats are much worse than the Kings, both organizations have given these point guards little to work with. They can’t control who their teammates are during their first year in the league.

If they get the right pieces around each of their teams, they can actually compete in their respective conferences. They could be dangerous, prevalent players.

How long before these franchises get those pieces, though? It could be a while, but this shouldn’t take away from the potential just waiting to be exploited once put in the right context.

Kemba Walker and Isaiah Thomas are known for their college days. Eventually, Kemba Walker and Isaiah Thomas will also be known for their NBA days.

 

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