Kemba Walker, the last remaining Naismith Award finalist (both in our rundown and in the tournament), put Connecticut on his back this season, and has carried them to Houston for the Final Four. The junior, a Bronx native, has adeptly taken the torch passed to him by the great New York point guards.
Reported by UConn to be 6’1 (although listed elsewhere to be as much as two inches shorter), and weighing in at 172 pounds, Walker took total control of the Huskies this year. He was the only major-conference player to rank in the top-4 in the nation in minutes played, usage rate, and shots taken (FGA+FTA). An absolute lightning bolt, Walker can get anywhere he wants to on the court, and his Barry Sanders-like change of direction enables consistent forays into the paint to attack the basket. He is an extremely dangerous one-on-one player, and with the defense constantly concerned about his drive, can create a shot off the dribble as well as any college player right now. His jumper has improved considerably, and now is a weapon as opposed to just for show to keep defenses honest. Walker used to have some trouble controlling himself, as his speed and recklessness would get the better of him, but this season he’s grown into the role of truly running a team. His speed and penetration ability open up passing lanes as well, and he has excelled at facilitating good shots for his teammates. Defensively, he is active and aggressive when on the ball, keeping his man in front of him, and physical enough to fight for rebounds, using his athletic ability to dart between bigs. When off the ball, Walker is quick and attentive enough to anticipate the passing lanes, creating an almost unstoppable blur in transition.
The only thing keeping him from being a Derrick Rose, John Wall-type prospect is his size. His seemingly endless array of stop-and-go maneuvers and headfakes will throw defenders off once he is in the paint, but also allow others to recover, and he gets his shot blocked more than you would like. Trying to do too much on his drives has kept his field goal percentage down, as his winding and weaving leaves him in poor shooting position. At the next level, he’ll need to learn when to take it up strong, and when to avoid contact — if he lets himself get knocked around too much, durability will always be a concern. He doesn’t have natural point guard instincts either, and though a good passer and creator, will have to keep forcing himself to curb his scoring instincts. Walker will undoubtedly struggle guarding bigger points, and will need considerable help to compensate for the size and strength disadvantage when someone like Deron Williams tries to isolate him in the post.
Walker’s elite athleticism will help compensate for some of the problems that his lack of height may have on the court, and his work ethic should take care of the rest. For as small as he is, he’s surprisingly strong, and fearless taking hard fouls and getting to the line. He’s got a bit of young Iverson in him, with the separation he creates on his step-back jumper and his natural offensive tendency to be decisive and aggressive at all times. He’s also got some hops, and has shown an ability to throw it down when the opportunity presents itself in the open floor. His most challenging task as a pro will be settling down and playing efficiently when handed the keys to an offense — the age of gunning, volume-scoring point guards is thankfully coming to a close. While facilitating an obscene amount of the Huskies action this season, Walker has actually cut down on his turnovers from last year, which shows that he knows how to play within himself for the betterment of the team. Add in a consistently improving spot-up jump shot, and Kemba’s star shines bright in the transition to the NBA.
Current NBA Comparison: Jason Terry
2010-2011 stats (entering Final Four): 23.9 PPG, 4.5 APG, 5.3 RPG, .433 FG/.818 FT/.339 3PT, 2.03 AST:TO ratio