Time to Recognize the Other Point Guard at Baylor: AJ WaltonPosted by dnspewak on January 21st, 2013
ESPN’s Brent Musburger and Fran Fraschilla gushed about a bunch of Baylor players during its victory over Oklahoma State Monday evening. They talked about how the 34 NBA scouts in the building surely must have noticed that forwards Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin combined for 11 blocks and two double-doubles. They talked about standout point guard Pierre Jackson, the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year and the Bears’ leading scorer. And they talked about Brady Heslip, the dead-eyed three-point shooter who has been suffering through a shooting slump after a terrific 2011-12 campaign.
There was one more guy they gushed about. That’s A.J. Walton, the senior guard and winningest player in Baylor basketball history. It’s about time you gush about him, too. He didn’t lead the team in scoring like Jackson, and he didn’t finish with a double-double or block any shots, but he made what Fraschilla called the “play of the game” when he saved a ball near the baseline and fired it to Jefferson for a dunk, helping extend his team’s lead to eight points after the Cowboys had staged a modest comeback. It was one of four assists on the day for Walton, who also tallied two steals, five rebounds and made a number of other hustle plays, none of which went unnoticed by the commentators. By the end of the game, it would be fair to say Musburger had more of a crush on A.J. Walton than he did on that other A.J.’s girlfriend, if you catch our drift.
And why not? After losing his starting spot to Jackson a year ago and playing reserve duty for the second half of his junior season, Walton has started every game this year and seems to have developed his niche as a senior. Jackson handles the ball and makes most of the flashy plays, but Walton is a steady presence with great defensive skills and court vision. He isn’t as turnover-prone as he was early in his career, and he also helps take some pressure of Jackson since he’s not relied on as a primary scorer. Walton may not shoot the ball very well, but this team doesn’t need him to fill that role. He makes up for it — and then some — by getting after people on the defensive end and making smart plays in the final minutes of games. How lucky is Scott Drew to be able to play two reliable point guards at the same time? That’s why his minutes are way up this season after losing that starting job last year, and that’s why it’s important to recognize Walton as one of the major cogs on this Baylor team.
Funny thing is, he’s not the only other underrated point guard on the roster. Gary Franklin, who specifically transferred from California to play the point guard position, has also seen increased playing time this season. He’s no star, but as one of the first guys off the bench, he provides the Bears a spark with his athleticism and perimeter defense. Here’s an interesting statistic for you: Franklin averages 0.8 steals in about 15 minutes of action per game. Pretend for a moment he’s a starter playing starter’s minutes — you could double his minutes, and he would probably average about a steal and a half per game, right? That may not be “statistically significant,” but a rough average of 1.5 steals per game would tie Franklin for fifth place in the Big 12.
Point is, Gary Franklin’s doing a nice job in backup duty. A.J. Walton is doing an even better job as an unheralded starting guard. Kudos to Musburger for ignoring the coeds in the crowd and giving some much-deserved props to Walton.