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Is Kemba Walker Ready to Lead the Bobcats?

August 31, 2012 – Dan Favale

Someone, somewhere has to be able to make sense of the Charlotte Bobcats. But is that someone Kemba Walker?

The Bobcats are a team without an obvious leader, without someone to boost their morale, keep their heads in check and ensure everyone is doing their jobs. Case and point: Charlotte is a team without a voice. And they need one. Badly.

It’s not just that this team went 7-59 last season, and it’s not just the reality that they’re built to stave off a similar record this upcoming year, it’s that they’ve hit rock bottom, and now need someone to pick up the pieces.

Enter Walker. Maybe.

According to Tom Sorensen of the Charlotte Observer, Walker has been working hard on his game this summer, working hard on becoming the leader his team so sorely lacks at the moment.

“Just pretty much everything,” Walker said late Wednesday afternoon. “You know, pick and roll, just taking a whole bunch of shots. Overall, shooting.”

But it has to be more than shots. Walker cannot merely be an offensive powerhouse, he needs to lead his team on both ends of the floor while injecting the necessary intangibles into the lineup that forces his peers to respect him, and perform at a higher level.

And apparently, he knows that.

Self wouldn’t have started for the Bobcats last season, but he might have played. The Bobcats won seven of 66 games. A first-round pick, Walker was the back-up point guard. When the season ended, so did the tenure of point guard D.J. Augustin. Walker is the starter now.

You’re the leader.

“I agree,” says Walker. “Coach is really pushing me to be the leader and pushing me to use my voice. I’m trying to embrace that role.”

But is he ready for that role? It’s great that he understands what needs to be done, but is he the one to do it? Can he rally his troops toward the path of improvement? Can he show Michael Kidd-Gilchrist that Charlotte isn’t a lost cause? Can he be the player everyone turns to, both on and off the court, and be that player now?

He has no choice.

No one else in that Bobcats locker room or rotation is going to step-up. Kidd-Gilchrist is new to the pros, Bismack Biyombo is as timid a personality as you’ll find, and newcomer Ben Gordon has never been much of a leader.

That leaves Walker, an undersized combo-guard entering his sophomore year, on a team without an identity and by all accounts, a team that is nowhere near finding one.

This goes beyond pick-and-rolls. It goes beyond poor rebounding. It goes beyond lackadaisical defense. And it goes beyond an unstructured offense.

As deficient as the Bobcats are across the board, wielding a capable and willing leader is one aspect of the game they cannot afford to be behind the times in. This is the mental side of the NBA, the one that separates the players who truly belong, who truly have cornerstone-esque potential, from the ones who are feigning all-around competency.

Is Walker merely an athlete with a promising skill-set, or does he have the mental toughness to lead an entire team of misfits into the land of acceptance?

At such a young age, and with severely limited experience, there’s no right answer. Not now anyway. He may be ready to lead the Bobcats statistically, but emotionally? It might be too early.

Or maybe it’s not. After all, not many sophomores would embrace the role Walker seems to be embracing. It’s easy to stand behind your team when you see a future, but it’s much more difficult to stick your neck out for one that has no guarantees of eventual success or relevancy.

So, while it will be a few months before we know if Walker is ready to emerge as a leader in Charlotte, we already know that the Bobcats are placing their eggs in the right basket.

Wallker has the talent, he has the mindset, and most importantly, he seemingly has the drive to succeed.

And succeed he must, or else this chaotic ship that has become the Bobcats is likely to cap-size.

Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.

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