Beginning a four-game West Coast road trip, the Charlotte Hornets need to look back at their win over the New York Knicks and the difference in that win between Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker to know what’s the right thing for them to do.
Both Lin and Walker scored 26 points in the 13-point win over the Knicks, but Lin didn’t need 25 shots to get there. He was perfect from the line (he’s 96.4% in his last seven games after struggling earlier in the season) and had his way with the Knicks defense after a slow start. Walker kept chucking away, because that’s how Steve Clifford wants him to play. He prefers Lin to take less than 10 shots per game, but with so many players out, he really doesn’t have a choice.
The Hornets can play smarter basketball than they usually do and they can even do it with the ball in Walker’s hands, but he almost always chooses the option of turning the possession into an isolation play. His high assist number at times? When your usage rate is skyrocketing through the roof, you’re bound to find someone open at some point. And yet it still hasn’t dawned on the Hornets that defenses pay a lot more attention to Walker than to Lin, which would make the team’s highest scorer (20 points per game up to this point) a much better decoy and issue for the opponents defense when he’s without the ball.
While this is a long season and we also have the All-Star break ahead of us, this road trip feels like a key juncture in the Hornets’ season. Yes, they’re playing hobbled and missing key players, but they’re capable of beating the teams they’re up against, or at least walking away from this stretch in their schedule without an automatic four losses. And while it’s tempting to go with Walker so he can go off occasionally, it’s smarter to make this a team thing, which means involve Lin a lot more when it comes to handling the ball. Even, sometimes, not let Walker touch the ball on some possessions, as difficult as it sounds for those running the team.
It won’t be as easy for Lin to score or get into the paint as before, unless Spencer Hawes is capable of drawing out DeMarcus Cousins away from the basket. Lin will be guarded by Ben McLemore, not the best of defenders, and should be able to get ahead of him on a regular basis, hopefully into an open lane. Right now, the Hornets have guys who can shoot on the floor, so it opens up a lot of possibilities if they’re capable of making the Kings uncomfortable defensively.
But a lot depends on how Walker reacts to a potential shootout with Cousins or someone else. He still took 25 shots in the win over the Knicks (making just 7 of them. Even with the three 3-pointers, that eFG% isn’t too impressive). And with him guaranteed to play 40 minutes and more, the only way he doesn’t go off for around 30 shots, which he has all the green lights in the world to do, is Lin having another strong shooting day, which forces the team to play off of him as well.