Size kills in the NBA, and the league's landscape is rapidly changing from a traditional, five-position lineup to teams trying to get the most athletic, lengthy players on the court at any given time to increase tempo, improve defense and play above the rim.
The point guard position, specifically, has undergone this sort of change in recent years. The likes of 6-foot-4 John Wall, Jrue Holiday and Ricky Rubio, 6-foot-3 Kyrie Irving, Goran Dragic and Damian Lillard — all but Dragic (27 years old) are 23 or younger — have begun changing the definition of a true point guard. There are still shorter point guards in Tony Parker, Mike Conley and Ty Lawson, but teams are looking more and more for taller guards who can play multiple positions and around the basket.
Kemba Walker, however, seems to be bucking that trend.
Listed at 6-foot-1 but probably closer to 6-feet, the third-year point guard is enjoying his most successful season and has led the Charlotte Bobcats to a 15-22 record, currently good for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. Those 15 wins are just six fewer than their total from a year ago, when they went just 21-61; in 2011-12 the Bobcats finished 7-59 in the lockout-shortened season, so there's apparent improvement in a franchise left for dead just a few years ago.
First-year Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford, the frontrunner for Coach of the Year, is responsible for much of the team's improvement — they tout road wins over New York and Detroit, and home wins over Toronto and Golden State — but so is Walker. He's averaging a team-best 18.4 points on 41 percent shooting, 4.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game in more than 35 minutes per game.
Consistency has plagued the undersized third-year guard. During a six-game stretch in December he averaged 26.0 points on 59 percent shooting, 5.3 rebounds and 5.2 assists in nearly 37 minutes per game, with the Bobcats winning four of those games. Then in the next five games, he averaged just 14.4 points on 30 percent shooting, 4.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, with the Bobcats losing all five games.
Walker is certainly Charlotte's barometer of success; in 15 wins, Walker is averaging almost 21 points on 46 percent shooting, and in 21 losses he's averaging less than 17 points on 38 percent shooting. And currently he's riding a bit of a hot streak, combining for 49 points, seven rebounds and 14 assists in his last two games.
That's where he and the Bobcats stand heading into tonight's matchup against the Bulls. It's only January, but tonight's game may have playoff implications as Charlotte sits just 2.5 games behind Chicago in the Eastern Conference standings. The two teams met in mid-November, with the Bulls earning an 86-81 victory behind 21 points from Luol Deng. This time around, Deng is gone, and so is the injured Derrick Rose, who scored 12 points and handed out five assists in the win. Walker made just 3 of 14 shots in the loss, so he's also looking to turn around his fortunes while leading the Bobcats to victory.
It's all on Comcast SportsNet tonight. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live, hosted by Mark Schanowski and Will Perdue. And stay with CSN after the contest for Bulls Postgame Live, where we'll bring you highlights, reaction from head coach Tom Thibodeau and analysis. Stay interactive with Bulls Pulse, using #BullsTalk on Twitter to join the conversation.