Kemba Walker enters the 2011 NCAA Tournament as a household name after four incredible performances in the 2011 Big East Tournament. In that way, all college fans know him. The question for NBA fans, though, especially those who have their eye on the 2011 NBA Draft already, is whether he can translate his impressive college production into the pro game. Here, the jury is still very much out, and I'm honestly not sure if there's anything Walker can prove in the NCAA Tournament that he hasn't proved already.
The positives with Walker are obvious from anyone who saw the Big East Tournament. He's incredibly quick and tricky with the ball, able to find seams and change speeds to squeeze through any hole in the defense. He's capable of hitting the three-pointer, pulling up from mid-range and finishing at the rim, and I see no reason why he can't do all those same things on the next level. The ability to change speeds is what impresses me most about him, because that's exactly the skill that matters most when running an NBA pick and roll. He also has all the intangibles, willing his undermanned team in whatever way necessary.
The issue with Walker, though, is something that we've touched on before on this site. Walker, at this point, is essentially a six-foot shooting guard. The comparisons to former Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn, who rode a similar surge in the Big East Tournament two years ago into an ill-fated high lottery selection, are obvious. They are different players, but those differences don't exactly clear up the Kemba puzzle. Walker carries a much more significant load for his team than Flynn does, but he also scored less efficiently and dished out far fewer assists, as we noted. Walker all commits far fewer turnovers, which is a feather in his cap, but also a byproduct, in a way, of his increased usage (i.e. he'll occasionally shoot a bad shot instead of committing a turnover, which is better, but not by much).
The major question with Walker as a prospect is whether all of this is because of his team or because of him as a player. Connecticut is not flushed with other top scorers, unlike the 2009 Syracuse team. They are specifically built around Walker's ability to do everything for them. Is he a product of his environment, or is his environment a product of him? That's the chicken vs. egg question that NBA scouts must answer, because no matter what happens, Walker's environment will change once he reaches the pros. There isn't a team in this league that can or will commit to playing Walker and surrounding him with the kind of complimentary talent Connecticut has. Walker is good, but he's not 2001 Allen Iverson.
So really, the NCAA Tournament can't tell us too much more about Walker that we don't already know. He's already starred on a big stage, and he's not going to be able to play for a different team so that we can better isolate his environment from his production. Therefore, NBA fans should do what college fans have done already. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
WHO: Kemba Walker, guard, Connecticut. 6'0'', 180 pounds. Lead guard.
WHEN: Thursday, March 17 at 7:20 PM Eastern on TNT (Connecticut vs. Bucknell).
PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION: Fans of the Timberwolves, Raptors, Bobcats, Cavaliers
NBA COMPARISON: Rodney Stuckey against better competition
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