Zach Lowe, ESPN
It’s time for an NBA dog days tradition: the Marc Gasol All-Stars, honoring my dozen favorite players to watch during this NBA season. Some ground rules:
* If possible, no actual All-Stars. Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook are fun to watch. Duh.
* Ditto for the high-profile rookie phenoms we’ve been drooling over (or arguing about) all season; Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner and others need not apply.
* You have to be more than a bit player. Fun guys like Willie Cauley-Stein, JaMychal Green and longtime favorite Kyle O’Quinn haven’t hit the undefined Gasol minutes threshold.
* We use an All-Star-style 12-man roster with a realistic mix of guards, wings and big men.
* No Warriors! Andre Iguodala is a natural for this, but we’ve all written plenty on Golden State, and we’ll write plenty more.
Here are your 2015-16 Marc Gasol All-Stars:
Kemba Walker, G, Hornets (team captain): Walker’s filthy, mean-spirited handle is even filthier now that he can shoot; fancy jitterbugging doesn’t get you far if defenders duck under every screen. They can’t do that as often with Walker hitting a career-best 37 percent from deep, and when opposing point guards chase him over picks, Walker is pulling up for Lillardian triples.
Walker might have the league’s nastiest crossover, a low-to-the-ground left-to-right job that leaves saps lurching the wrong way on broken ankles. He’ll fake toward a pick, coax his man that direction, and then zoom the other way into open water. Trap him on the pick-and-roll, and he’ll scrunch down like a sprinter at the starting block before jetting through the crevice in between defenders.
Walker manages three direction changes in the time it takes most dudes to pull one, but when he sees a clear lane to pay dirt, he can hit the turbo button for a straight ahead bum-rush. The threat of that drive spooks defenders into backpedaling, and Walker exploits that with a deadly step-back jumper that covers so much ground that it’s really more of a lunge-back shot.
He’s shooting 60 percent near the basket, by far his career best, and he appears more comfortable kissing floaters off the glass. Walker has been a delight to watch for the scorching Hornets, and he might be the league’s most fearless clutch shooter; no one has jacked more shots within the last three minutes of close games, per NBA.com, and Walker has canned a tidy 44 percent of those high-leverage looks.