RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Kemba WalkerPosted by Brian Goodman on June 14th, 2011
Player Name: Kemba Walker
Height/Weight: 6’1/185 lbs.
NBA Position: Point Guard
Projected Draft Range: High First Round
Overview: Despite his short stature, Kemba Walker was incredibly successful as a three-year player for UConn head coach Jim Calhoun. Hailing from the prolific Rice High School in the Bronx, Walker began his college career playing over 25 minutes per game but only started two games as a freshman. America got a taste of what was to come in the 2009 Elite Eight against Missouri, when a 23-point Walker effort helped propel UConn to the Final Four before losing to Michigan State in the national semifinal. From that point on, he cemented himself as the unquestioned leader of the Huskies. While the Huskies missed the NCAA Tournament in his sophomore campaign, Walker continued to improve by using his outstanding quickness to to up his scoring average (14.6 PPG) and refine his three-point shooting (34.2%). Walker’s junior season was a complete revelation from the get-go, as he dropped jaws in Maui with a tournament total of 90 points against Wichita State, Michigan State and Kentucky. Twenty-point games became the norm (a top-five national scorer at 23.2 PPG), but Walker’s collegiate career will of course be remembered for guiding the Huskies through a scorching hot streak at precisely the right time. UConn won five games in five days to capture the Big East Tournament championship, and with the leadership of Walker and freshman Jeremy Lamb, UConn carried that momentum all the way to the NCAA Tournament title.
Will Translate to the NBA: Explosiveness is the characteristic that will carry Walker to a successful pro career. He’s incredibly quick off the dribble and keeps the ball on a string. Though he stands only 6’1, early on he realized the importance of creating space to gets shots off. As a result, he has grown quite proficient in executing jab steps, crossovers and step-back jumpers. He was incredibly durable as a junior, regularly playing over 35 minutes per contest, a testament to his conditioning and ability to stay out of foul trouble and avoid mistakes. Many also forget that Walker was a very good rebounder for someone his size (5.4 RPG last season), though of all his many skills, this is one that’s most likely to dissolve at the next level.
Needs Work: Perhaps the biggest challenge for Walker is adapting his ballhandling and driving skills to the professional level, where the defenses are bigger, quicker and more developed. Over the long haul, his endurance will be tested, since his game is susceptible to absorbing lots of contact on the way to the hoop. It will be interesting to see how much size he can add to his frame without losing his trademark speed and agility. While he averaged 4.5 assists per game last season at UConn, there are concerns about his ability to be a true point guard and orchestrate an offense in the NBA. As a volume scorer, he is prone to taking many wild shots, but that’s partially attributable to how heavily his team leaned on him. He’ll also need to improve his mid-range game to complement his advanced driving ability.
Comparison Players: Elite point guards at Walker’s size are few and far between, but the few that exist have several common trademarks. Chris Paul, Jameer Nelson, and Ty Lawson all have fantastic speed in the open floor, can handle the ball in slivers of space, and are equally effective going into the paint as they are shooting the outside jumper. The UConn point guard is cut from the same cloth as all of these players, and his near-forty inch vertical is better than all of them. The question is just how far along this track will he develop; he’s shown an incredible ability to improve year-over-year, so we shouldn’t be surprised if he continues to shore up the weaker parts of his game at the next level and becomes a highly coveted one a few years down the road in the NBA.
Best Case Scenario: The best case for Walker is that he becomes an All-Star NBA point guard. Few will question his ability to score the ball — he has an uncanny knack for finding space and getting good looks at the rim. The only real question is whether he can distribute the rock at the NBA level, an area that was somewhat undeveloped at UConn because he often played off the ball or the Huskies’ best offense was through him. His jumper has gotten better in the last several years, but nobody would call him an elite shooter either. If he can prove capable of running an NBA team and can continue to expand his range to become a scoring threat all over the floor, he can max out as a several-time All-Star.
2014 Projection: We’re not sure we see it happening, though, at least not in three years. We worry that he will struggle with the combo guard mentality that many players his size and with his ability have to work through. Is he a scorer or a distributor? By 2014, he will be one track or the other depending on how his first three years have gone, and we suspect he’ll look more like Bobby Jackson than Chris Paul at this point. He’ll probably play good minutes and be counted on for double-figure scoring, but he’ll not be considered an elite point guard nor will he be on track to become one. He will be a very good player, however.
Best NBA Fit: Without question, Walker is going to be drafted by a team in the lottery lacking experienced talent. The best fit for him would be an opportunity to jump right into a starting lineup on a team with at least a couple additional offensive options available. The Detroit Pistons at #8, Charlotte Bobcats at #10, or Utah Jazz at #12 would be ideal, but he may not get past the Toronto Raptors at #5 or the Sacramento Kings at #7. Each of these teams affords him an opportunity to play heavy minutes immediately, but the former three have at least a few offensive options that will help take some of the burden off of his shoulders in the next couple of years.
Scout’s Take (Chris Denker from Netscouts Basketball): “proven winner and scorer… has shown an ability to get in line and work… very magnetic personality… not a real distributor… what’s his range?… is he a career backup?… with the way he plays, maybe he’s somebody’s juice off the bench.”