A year ago, Kemba Walker was preparing for a major conference battle against No. 7 Villanova. Connecticut was 15-2 and the eight-ranked team in the country. He was battling with his teammates on Connecticut for a chance to win the Big East, something the team would do in a memorable run to the conference title, and eventually a national championship.
Walker scored 24 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out five assists in a typically well-rounded game from Walker from his time with UConn. Walker in fact his a floater with 10 seconds left to top the Wildcats. It was a high moment in a season full of highs for Walker.
It would have been hard to say that the Huskies were headed that way at this time last year. They were good, but not championship good.
As Walker prepared to make his third career start with the Bobcats, it is a much different story. Charlotte entered Tuesday’s games 3-11 and already far behind the pace in the Eastern Conference. He entered a team rebuilding. Charlotte traded away the two leaders from its lone playoff appearance — Gerald Wallace to Portland before the trade deadline and Stephen Jackson to Milwaukee on draft night — and owner Michael Jordan was clearing the decks to build the team the way he wanted.
It is unfamiliar territory for the player that certainly is the future for the Bobcats. Unfortunately it is familiar territory for the Bobcats and their fans.
Walker is having a strong rookie season, averaging 11.3 points per game and 3.1 assists per game in 23.2 minutes per game. In two starts entering Tuesday’s game, Walker is averaging 18.5 points per game and 4.5 assists per game while shooting 14 for 36 from the floor. His first start was a career-high 23 point effort against Golden State.
His play has not been without its struggles. Walker is shooting 38.0 percent from the floor and just 32.5 percent from beyond the arc entering Tuesday’s game. Walker has never been afraid to pull the trigger and work for his own shot. And Charlotte is an environment where he can do that. Mostly because, without any real star and without much hope of going anywhere, Charlotte is in a pure rebuilding mode.
This is a team that is still learning how to play together and learning how to play in the NBA. Nobody is quite sure who will even be on the roster in the future aside from the recent draft picks — Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo and second-year player Gerald Henderson. What Charlotte has now are great slashers and drivers, but little in the way of shooting or post play.
This is not the gritty defensive team that Gerald Wallace led. And this is not a team that is particularly effective offensively.
Their youth has them losing games they shouldn’t — Monday’s loss to the Cavaliers came after another second half collapse as the Bobcats lost a 14-point third quarter lead. But their potential and talent have them giving hope too. Charlotte raced out to a seven-point lead at the end of the first quarter in Orlando and fought back for a halftime lead. Holding onto that lead against Dwight Howard and the veteran Magic was a much different story in a game that became a gritty fight to the bitter end.
Still, the Bobcats had a long way to go and were far from matching the Magic at the end.
That is the life of a rebuilding franchise. There are the road bumps and hiccups along the way. The growing pains and moments of positive play. Worst of all, there is the losing.
And there has been a lot of that for the Bobcats this year. It is something Walker has to learn to deal with.
Knowing Michael Jordan though, the Bobcats won’t stay down for long. And with the promising young talent they do have, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel… next year.