CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte has one pretty good player who wears No. 1 and now they may have another.
Like his NFL counterpart Cam Newton of the Panthers, Bobcats guard Kemba Walker showed a knack for the big play in his NBA debut.
Walker, the No. 9 pick in the draft, shook off a slow start to score a game-high 18 points — including the go-ahead layup in the final minute — to lift the Bobcats to a 79-77 win over the Hawks in the preseason opener for both teams.
Josh Smith and Al Horford each scored 11 points to lead the Hawks.
After missing 8 of his first 10 shots, including a dunk on a fastbreak, and picking up three fouls in his first four minutes, Walker made a 17-footer and a pretty driving layup over two defenders in the closing 90 seconds. He used his quickness to consistently draw contact in the lane and shot 9 for 11 from the line.
When jokingly asked if Walker will challenge Newton for the spotlight in this small city, Bobcats coach Paul Silas laughed and said, "We'll see. Cam is a starter right now and Kemba is going to be coming off the bench...(But) it's exciting that he has a knack for getting open and knowing what to do and going to the hoop and getting fouled."
Walker, who led UConn to a national title last year, said he likes to have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line.
"I just wanted to win," Walker said. "I don't like to lose. I know it's a preseason game, but I just want to win."
Walker outplayed starting point guard D.J. Augustin, who was 2 of 9 from the field and turned the ball over six times.
Silas praised Walker's ability to get to the basket.
"That's what I did for most of my career until I started to develop my mid-range jump shot," Walker said. "Being a threat shooting the basketball helps me a lot."
The Bobcats got a strong effort from Boris Diaw, making his first start at center since the departure of Kwame Brown. Playing well away from the basket, Diaw shot 5 for 8 from the field and had 12 points.
Both teams went deep into the bench.
Smith was hot early for the Hawks but finished 5 of 12 from the field. Horford was 5 of 7 from the field but only played 16 minutes.
"Just to be able to get out there and talk to the referees a little bit, it was fun," Smith said. "There's definitely some rust there and that's expected with not having a real training camp where we can mesh."
Charlotte's Tyrus Thomas left the game with a mild ankle sprain.