Leading up to Draft Night on June 23, we’re going to profile the draft prospects that we feel are most likely to be on the Raptors’ radar for the fifth overall pick. Going alphabetically, Kemba Walker is our last profile before tonight’s draft.
Weight: 185 lbs.
Date of birth: May 8, 1990
Likely NBA position: PG
In an NBA draft class populated with plenty of unknowns, Kemba Walker is as “known” as it gets among the likely top 10 picks. He played three years at Connecticut — one of the most high-profile US college hoops programs — and led the UConn Huskies to an NCAA Championship in his junior year before declaring for this year’s NBA draft. You already know these things.
In fact, there isn’t much we can tell you about Kemba Walker that you haven’t already figured out for yourself, including his strengths and weaknesses. Where the debate comes in is how well his game will translate to this level, and there is definitely a wide split on this topic. Some people think he’s too small, doesn’t shoot well enough and isn’t enough of a “pure point guard” to be anything more than an NBA backup. Others are convinced that his athleticism, drive and leadership will carry him to greatness even if mostly by force of will.
OK, I can tell you one thing about Walker you might not know. Did you know that he’s a great dancer? When he was in high school in The Bronx, he was part of a hip-hop dance crew that performed three times at the Apollo Theater. I guess we know where his great footwork comes from.
What impresses you most about Walker?
Scott Carefoot: Kemba Walker is very tricky when he has the ball in his hands. He has supreme confidence in his ability to score from anywhere, whether it’s by creating space for himself and getting off a shot or driving to the hole after he’s faked his defender out with a jab-step, change of direction or acceleration into an extra gear. If he doesn’t get the basket outright, his array of moves often draws harm from his defender — he averaged over eight free throw attempts per game during the NCAA Tournament and made 90 percent of those attempts. Defensively, he has quick, busy hands that he used to average two steals per game over his sophomore and junior years at UConn — and once he swipes that rock, you know he’s taking it for an easy basket in transition on the other end.
Joseph Casciaro: I’ll be honest, most of what I like about Kemba Walker has more to do with intangibles than it does with pure basketball ability, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. On the court, I like that Kemba possesses the speed/quickness that most successful young point guards need in today’s NBA. I also like that while he can attack the rim with fearless aggression, he is still a true point guard who will look to get his team going first. In terms of the intangibles, the guy seems like a natural born leader, or at least he seemed that way when I was watching him carry the Huskies on his back. He appears to be the type of player that lives by the “whatever it takes to win” philosophy, and the Raptors badly need young players like that.
What are your biggest concerns about Walker’s NBA prospects?
Scott Carefoot: I’m not as concerned with Kemba’s size as some people are. This isn’t Earl Boykins we’re talking about here — six-foot-one is a perfectly legitimate height for an NBA point guard. I’m also not too scared by his lack of scoring efficiency at UConn since he was forced to take a lot of difficult shots at the end of possessions as the primary scorer on his team. What I wonder is will he be able to sublimate his mindset from being his team’s primary scorer to being a player who needs to focus more on creating more for his teammates? If he continues to see himself as the alpha scoring option for his team in the NBA, the result will probably be a field goal percentage under 40 and a potentially short career as a backup point guard.
Joseph Casciaro: My answer is likely going to be the same as Scott’s and everyone else’s: his size is my biggest concern. Offensively, I’m not too concerned, but I wonder how the heck Kemba will defend bigger, stronger NBA guards without being embarrassed. The last thing the Raptors need is another point guard with permeable defence. Having said all that, I am a firm believer that speed is the greatest equalizer in sports, and Walker seems to have enough of it to overcome some of his weaknesses.
How good of a fit do you think Walker would be on the Raptors?
Scott Carefoot: As I write this on the morning of the draft, Walker has fallen out of the lottery in several prominent mock drafts so it appears increasingly likely that he could be this year’s Jameer Nelson — an undersized guard who performed extremely well in college but gets passed over by most of the first round teams because of a belief that he doesn’t have the upside of other younger, bigger guards. Whether or not this is what transpires, whoever drafts Kemba Walker is getting a young man with a chip on his shoulder and the supreme confidence that he can silence the doubters and show that he can keep on winning at even the highest level of basketball. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t bet against him.
Joseph Casciaro: Jerryd Bayless is still young enough to develop into a star, but until he does that, then the Raptors are in need of a young point guard who can run a team like a floor general and provide leadership on the court. Kemba Walker fits that description. His size is a realistic concern, but if his phenomenal quickness can bail him out, then Walker can be an impact player in the NBA for years to come.