Kemba Walker is one of the most enigmatic stars in the sport of basketball.
His Hornets have outscored their opponents in each of the past three seasons, but their record in those years, respectively, are 36-46, 36-46, and 10-10.
For the two full seasons, they underperformed their win expectation by six each of those two years, and this year, a team that should be on pace for 53 wins is instead on pace for 41.
That, assuming Charlotte would be 13-7 if they held serve with their record this year, is 15 wins below expectation across a mammoth sample size of 174 NBA games.
And right at the middle of it all is the enigmatic point guard who manages to completely disappear late in close games, a guy who should be clutch but is one of the league’s biggest choke artists.
I know, I know, “strong words, Fox, you got stats to back up that hot take?”
What, you think I just found the Basketball Reference Play Index yesterday?
Go ahead and click this link. Or let me summarize it for you.
Walker, since his rookie year, is 87-of-265 in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or in overtime when shooting to tie or take the lead. That’s 32.8 percent.
From three, he’s 27-of-97 (27.8 percent.)
In other words, Kemba Walker is an utterly putrid player in the clutch, one of the worst in the entire league.
And the Hornets, in games decided by one possession or which went into overtime at the end of regulation regardless of overtime score, went 0-12 in 2016-17, 2-7 last year, and they’re 2-6 so far this year.
That’s 4-25. A .138 winning percentage (or 11-71 over an 82-game season) in games that a team of Charlotte’s caliber should be about 15-14 in.
In boxing, there’s a saying that certain fighters learn how to lose. They fade late, lose split and majority decisions, go from promising prospects to journeymen, and then when they fight guys they might well have beaten if they didn’t have that seed of doubt planted in their head, losing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s the single greatest mental block that separates champions from club fighters.
And playing for one of the worst teams in NBA history, the Roland Emmerich movie that was the 2012 Bobcats, during his rookie year?
It’s hard not to look at that and wonder if maybe Kemba’s mind in close games got a little broken.
Because for the past three years, Kemba’s teams, in the games where “grit and toughness” (leaving aside the maxim of “great teams win big and lose close”) are supposed to decide games, are only three games over a full season better than that 7-59 laughingstock during the lockout year.
And you can lay that at Walker’s feet. He’s the leader. He’s the guy who’s supposed to be clutch, the guy who has people trying to claim he belongs as a perennial All-Star and one of the best point guards in the Eastern Conference if not the league.
But Wallace’s Law applies. Ball don’t lie.
And ball says Kemba’s got a .379 eFG% when shooting to tie or take the lead.
How bad is a .379 eFG%?
If we simply take every single shooter in the 3-point era who’s taken at least 265 shots (so as many as Kemba has in our sample), from Hall of Famers down to guys who only ever played in garbage time, and sorted them by eFG%, .379 would make Walker tied with Elijah Millsap for 11th worst.
And that is out of every single NBA player who has hoisted up 265 shots or more in the past 40 years.
Think about that next time your team is rumored to be trading for Kemba Walker. Whatever you do, for the love of all things good and holy in this world, do not let him shoot with the game on the line!
Walker has a loser’s mentality. If you’re a fan of a winning team, think long and hard about whether you want that on your team, especially come playoff time.
At some point, you can’t blame Walker’s poor performance on the team. At some point, you have to blame the team’s poor performance on the choke artist who has the ball late.