The NBA Draft Blog Scouting reports take our first look at one of the best, and most-surprising, guards in the country – UConn’s Kemba Walker. We all knew Walker could handle the point better than most, but not many expected the kind of scoring explosions he has had this season, thanks to a much-improved perimeter shot. While most will expect him to head to the NBA after this kind of season, how will his game translate, and where should he be drafted? Let’s look now at Kemba Walker:
Kemba Walker, Connecticut - Junior
Guard- 6’1, 172
23.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.9 spg, 43.1% FG, 77.4% FT, 35.6% 3FG
Perimeter Shooting- The one thing everyone points to as the greatest improvement in Walker’s game is his jumper. While it’s true that everything about his shot has gotten better – his release is quicker, his release point is better, he has great lift and arc, and he has increased his range – it’s Walker’s ability to get separation for his shot that makes him better than a lot of other point guards. Surprisingly, he is much better shooting his jumper off the dribble then he is off a catch and shoot situation. One area he needs to watch for is, because of his size, he has a tendency to fade away when shooting his jumper, often leaving his misses very short. His mid-range came has also improved a bit, though as he gets into the defense, it becomes tougher for him to get clean looks.
Ballhandling/Hands/Penetration- Walker may be one of the best ballhandlers in the NCAA right now – at times the ball seems to be attached to his hand with string. He is equally adept with both hands, has very good control of the ball, and uses a variety of dribbles to keep the defense off-balance. One minor flaw is making his dribbles more difficult than they often need to be – picking time and place will be important. His ability to get the ball up the floor quickly and in very few dribbles is impressive. He has an incredible knack for getting past his defender and into the lane easily, with an explosive first step and a great change of pace dribble. He has convincing ball and head fakes, and they are even more effective now that he is a decent perimeter threat. Once he gets into the lane, he has become one of the best at finding space and hitting the short jumper, while also being very good at drawing the defense and finding his teammates, though he needs to do more of it. One area he needs to get better at, though he has seemed to improve a bit this season, is a tendency to over-penetrate. His speed sometimes gets away from him and he ends up in a bad position under the basket, and he really doesn’t have the size or strength to finish once he has gone that far. Another major area where he has improved is his decision-making off the pick and roll – the confidence in his jumper combined with his penetration and passing skills, makes it very difficult for the defense to key in on one thing.
Rebounding/Passing- For his size, Walker is a very good defensive rebounder, always seeing the shot go up and finding ways he can sneak in and get the ball. He is also very good at following his own shot and reacting to a miss before the defense can. He just needs to work on getting a second shot up quicker, or make the decision to reset. Though he has taken on a much greater scoring role this season, Walker is still a top-notch creator and passer. He sees the whole court well, anticipates his teammates’ movements, and he does a great job getting the ball to guys where they will be most effective with it. He does a great job finding screeners off the pick and roll, though, as with his ballhandling, sometimes he needs to temper his need to do the spectacular. If he is paired with skilled post players, he is very good at getting the ball into the post in a variety of ways without forcing it.
Free Throw Shooting – Walker has improved as a free throw shooter since coming to UConn, though there is still plenty of room for him to become more consistent. Most important, he does a great job drawing contact and getting to the line a great deal, and should consistently get there 6-8 times per game.
Perimeter Defense- Walker can be a very strong on-ball defender, with the ability to say close to his man without reaching, great foot speed and lateral movement, and active hands going after the ball. He is very good at spotting his man’s weakness and exploiting it. Disruptive may be the best word to describe him when he is playing at his highest level. Where he runs into problems is where he gets a bit cute, tries to play coy and let his man try and make a play. More often than not, he has lost that battle, with either the player hitting a quick jumper or finding a way around him. Off-the-ball, he does a very good job keeping his eye on the man in the ball, keeping very good position, and being able to get quickly to help situations. Because he is very aware to what is going on around the court, he does a great job getting to loose balls. He is good at closing on shooters, though he needs to make more of an effort at it. Overall, his defensive skills are good, but the effort and work isn’t always there.
Rebounding- Walker is very good at getting after rebounds, and he anticipates misses very well. He has no problem battling with bigger men for rebounds and is very quick at getting to long rebounds and securing them. He does need to watch a tendency to want to release down court early, as if the offense gets the ball, he is left way out of position.
Walker is a lot of fun to watch on the break. He has a unique ability to use his speed to get around people while still seeing the court, and if someone stays with them, he can quickly break them down. While he is more comfortable using his speed to beat everyone to the rim, he needs to become more comfortable with the idea of pulling up and shooting his jumper. At the next level, his speed will be great, but so will others and people will watch to make sure he doesn’t get an easy path to the rim. His decision-making on passes could be better, but mainly from the standpoint of trying to do to much and overestimating his teammates ability to see the same opportunities he does.
Summary & Intangibles
Athleticism - Excellent
BB IQ – Very High
People were already aware of Walker’s point guard and playmaking skills heading into the season, but his effort’s to show he is a go-to scorer as well have made him one of the top players in the country. Confidence in his jumper has made him a threat from most places on the court, though I don’t see him being a scorer of the same caliber at the NBA level. Luckily, he still has top-notch playmaking ability to showcase as a professional. His size and lack of strength could create some issues, but his speed should compensate for some of that. Assuming he does come out this season, he is most-likely one of the Top 3 point guards taken, probably somewhere in the 10-15 range depending on the teams involved.
Make sure to check back tomorrow for a look at another Big East guard with a less clear picture of his NBA potential – Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell, as well as another edition of The Case For… looking at Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough. Remember, leave any comments below, follow me on Twitter – @NBADraftBlog, or feel free to email me at the link up top.