Kemba Walker made a magnificent shot to seal a UConn Big East Tournament game win on Thursday, drawing oohs from not just college ball fans, but from observers who hope Walker will do the same next season for their favorite NBA team. Walker is considered a fairly sure bet as a lottery pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, figuring to fall anywhere between about No. 4 and No. 12.
Oddly enough, that was Jonny Flynn's range back in 2009 after the small point guard led Syracuse through the Big East and to the Big Dance on a parade of exclamatory finishes. Flynn ended up going No. 6 to the Timberwolves, just behind the bigger Tyreke Evans (the eventual Rookie of the Year) and the more wispy Ricky Rubio (still in Spain). Flynn has been, for a number of reasons, pretty close to an unmitigated failure in Minnesota. Coaching and injury have helped, but the Wolves would like a re-do on that pick, no question.
That's where things with Walker get a bit tricky, because in their core metrics, Kemba and Jonny are really, really alike. But there's one stat where they differ enough to give Walker fans in NBA circles some comfort.
Flynn's final season with the Orange was his sophomore year; he was 19 years old. Walker is 20. So Walker should be a bit more advanced than Flynn was in 2008-09. As it turns out, Walker produces at a higher level than did Flynn, at least in terms of raw production. Walker is averaging 23 points per game; Flynn finished his sophomore year around 17. Both soaked up a ton of their team's offense; Kenpom.com's stats show a usage rate of 25 percent for Flynn and 30 percent for Walker. So again, Kemba is doing more.
But Flynn shot more efficiently -- a .567 True Shooting percentage vs. Walker's middling .537 rate -- and distributed more assists (6.7 per game vs. 4.3). Flynn was more of a natural point guard, which, when you're barely 6-foot (in shoes), matters. Walker's 6-1, and 6-1 two-guards don't have a wonderful history of success in the NBA. You at least need a strong passing streak; Evans has arguably failed as an NBA point guard, and his assist rate in college was 30 percent. Walker's is 26.7. If Tyreke is a two-guard, there's no reason to believe Walker will be a point.
So there's that -- Walker is far less a point guard than Flynn was, but scores more, but does so less efficiently. If there's a saving grace in Walker's NBA fate beyond vast personal improvement or some heretofore unseen UConn effect that is preventing Kemba from being as point-guardly as he could be, it's that Walker rarely turns over the ball despite his massive usage rate.
Walker averages two turnovers a game for a turnover rate of 10.4. Flynn's turnover rate was nearly double that ... and that's been a big problem at the NBA level. Evans has arguably suffered from the same issue; he can pass just fine, but when he does, it too often results in a turnover, which leads to Evans passing less frequently to avoid such. Walker doesn't turn the ball over. That reality could -- could -- allow him to be enough of a passing factor to make up for his size issues, which will serve to harm his ability to finish in the lane, get clean looks against NBA defenders and defend longer guards.
Whether Kemba becomes the next Flynn in the NBA or not, he's a thrilling player to watch right now, so enjoy him. This Walker may not be around much longer.
This post was edited for clarity.