That’s my early feeling, and I know many share that view. Why? Bluntly put, as much as I appreciate the strides Jerryd Bayless made towards the end of the season when Calderon was injured, I don’t ever see him becoming a legitimate scoring or distribution threat, and definitely not a player that commands double teams. Bayless’ explosiveness comes in spurts, sometimes every other quarter, sometimes every couple games, that’s an inconsistency you don’t like to see from your starting point guard. As point guards become more athletic, dynamic and explosive, their importance has come to the forefront, and if there’s a chance to nab one of a kind here, I’m leaning towards taking the jump.
Offensively, there’s not much to complain about Walker’s game, he creates great separation using his dribble, has greatly improved his pick ‘n roll game, and is becoming a bulls-eye shooter from mid-range. His shot-pass decisions are not ideal but whose are? A guy with his level of skill and explosiveness can be forgiven for bouts of selfish play, and it’s not like he’s forcing his offensive play to the detriment of the team. When a play broke down at UConn, Walker usually had the ball and was forced to improvise, and those possessions don’t usually end up in great shots. Just ask Russell Westbrook, the guy is getting so much flak for his “selfish” play without people realizing that once Durant is taken out of a play, OKC’s offense isn’t exactly a haven for ball-movement and Westbrook is doing what he has to. Sure, there have been instances of bad play, but those are standard fare for NBA point guards, nothing out of the ordinary.
Back to Walker, defensively, the biggest knock on him is his size, he stands 6′ and change, putting him in the T.J Ford territory of things. I don’t think height is as much of a factor as people make it out to be because the NBA lacks great post-guards (and has for a long time) who can punish lack of size by taking you inside. A shorter guard is still liable to suffer on switches and the like, but as far as conceding an advantage on a possession-by-posession basis, forget about it. I’d be much more concerned if he didn’t have great lateral quicks, had weight issues or had even a slightly questionable handle. I think his defensive awareness and agility will translate nicely to the NBA.
If height is a factor, it’s on the offensive end where taller NBA defenders could cope with his separation-creation techniques and still contest his mid-range jumpers. I wouldn’t say he’s great at changing speeds right now, but there’s enough footage of him out there where he’s thrown defenses curveballs with his drive-shoot hesitations. More importantly, how his height can affect the NBA version of the pick ‘n roll is up for debate. How will he handle a hedge by a 7-footer? Can he consistently throw looping or skip passes while being pressured? The 3″ difference between Irving and Walker has as much to do with their separation in the mock draft tables as anything.
Speed at the point has been lacking since T.J Ford left, and you might recall how effective Ford was when he was on his game. It’s time for a renaissance, and Walker is currently positioned in the mock drafts that he could fall into Colangelo’s lap. He would immediately become one of the fastest guys in the league which is a great asset to have for the initiator of the offense. He comes with three years of experience under Jim Calhoun where he’s played full seasons, and has won a national championship. This is the kind of experience that the Raptors should be looking to bring in if they plan on keeping their pick.
Jonny Flynn with a jumper, a stronger Brandon Jennings, a poor
early versionof Tony Parker? Aaron Brooks is the other guy that comes to mind, maybe even Jeff Teague (6’2″), however I’m rating Walker higher than them. He’s heavier than those guys and uses his strength well without compromising quickness. There’s absolutely no guarantees with Walker, but in my books he meets the criteria of a player that I’d like to have on a team I support: great character, excellent work-ethic, improving, fast, mature, skilled, and an innate instinct to compete. Remember, he’s 21 years old and comes with experience making him – dare I say – even more “NBA-ready” than Kyrie Irving. The latter is a complete basketball player, and a far more refined one at such a young age, but I think Walker’s experience allows him to have a quicker impact in the league. I like the tenacity of which he approaches the game, it’s not cockiness, it’s inborn confidence and I like.
In a different, better, draft class maybe Walker wouldn’t be rated as high as he is, that doesn’t change things because the Raptors have to play the cards they’ll be dealt. If they’re drafting anywhere between 3-6, Walker should be given serious consideration.
Chad Ford had the Raptors picking Enes Kanter (some reading on Kanter here), I get his reasoning which is lent even more credence because the Raptors are looking for a center. I’m just not sure Kanter satisfies the defensive requirement the Raptors have, he is a very good scorer for his age and uses his size well, that’s where it ends with him right now. I’m thinking that if it’s scoring we need, we already have that in Bargnani, what’s the point? Final comment on Jonas Valanciunas, he is intriguing to me except that he’s so raw that I don’t think I’ll have the patience to see him grow up. I know we’re in rebuilding and all that good stuff, but let’s try to move this thing along.
Here’s a DX/SI pre-tournament podcast discussing some of the prospects including Irving, Walker, Kanter and Valanciunas: