Kemba’s 3s, Parker’s influence paying off for Hornets
The Charlotte Hornets didn’t practice Thursday. Don’t mistake that for not working, not improving.
Facing three games in four days, coach James Borrego elected to have a team meeting to review video of Wednesday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, rather than running around the practice gym. But it was the unscheduled meeting after that meeting that was perhaps the most constructive.
Forward Nic Batum shared with the Observer, following Friday’s 120-88 blowout of the Magic, that he, Kemba Walker and Tony Parker stuck around after the formal team meeting to discuss nuance with Borrego. Those three players are most responsible for the Hornets’ offense running smoothly.
“We had video yesterday as a team, and after that Kemba, T.P. and me stayed another hour. We watched the last 12 minutes (against the Bucks) with coach,” Batum told the Observer Friday night.
“Everything is new. The preseason is different; (Wednesday) was really our first game. So we talked a lot. The two point guards and I (create) a lot. We had to talk about what to do in close games.”
While it was mostly strategic, it was also about taking responsibility, Batum said, as in Parker holding Walker and Batum accountable for setting a tone. Borrego said post-game Wednesday that the starters weren’t prepared physically or mentally.
“That was a good meeting!” Batum said. “Kemba and I talked and then T.P. talked to us. T.P. told Kemba and me, ‘You have to show the way!’”
Show, they did. Batum finished the first quarter with eight points, four rebounds and two
assists. Walker didn’t need to even play in the fourth quarter to be spectacular, finishing with 26 points and five assists in 27 minutes.
Walker has assembled a striking two-game start to this season: He has scored 67 points in 66 minutes, shooting 23-of-46 from the field. The 12 3-pointers he’s made tie an NBA record for most 3s by a player in the first two games of his season, set by Ray Allen in 2001.
It’s neat that Walker is in the record book, neater still, he said, that he joins Allen, who preceded him as one of Connecticut basketball’s greats.
“It is cool - not only because he’s one of the greatest 3-point shooters to play in this game, but because he played at the same school,” Walker said. “I know Ray personally, of course. I know his work ethic. To be (mentioned in) the same breath as him is unreal.”
It’s not just what Walker is doing, it’s how he’s doing it. Borrego has asked him to adjust a bit by playing off the ball more with the intention of making the Hornets’ offense more diverse and less predictable. A coach never really knows how a team’s top player will react to changing his role, particularly in Borrego’s situation showing up from the San Antonio Spurs.
To Walker, it’s not a sacrifice, it’s lightening his load and exploring other opportunities. Where before he was constantly the ball-handler in high pick-and-rolls, now he’s part of the offense some coming off screens and baseline actions without the ball.
“It gives other guys confidence and opportunities to do other things, and it gives me a break sometimes,” Walker said. “It makes teams guard me different. Do things where Nic is handling or J (Jeremy) Lamb is handling.
“We need other guys; I can’t be the one every night.”
It’s important Walker doesn’t just understand this, he has codified it with his actions. The balancing act is for Walker to succeed doing a little less, others must do a little more.
Borrego called 18-year veteran Parker a “father figure” the other day. He was referring specifically to Parker’s on-court role with the second unit, but the description seems to have a broader meaning with this team’s psyche.
Parker won four championships with the Spurs. He can be a great translator of what Borrego wants the Hornets to do and also isn’t shy about prodding his new teammates.
“We needed that vet in the locker room,” Batum said of fellow Frenchman Parker. “That’s what we really missed the last two years: a guy in the locker room who will go at everyone.”
Apparently, a version of that happened Thursday and the result was a 32point road victory on Friday.
The “T.P. Effect” won’t be that profound every game, but if this was an indication, Parker could come in mighty handy.