Kemba Walker was one of the players to watch in the 2011 NBA Draft. In a class that included the likes of Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, and Tobias Harris, Walker had the momentum of winning the NCAA Championship with the University of Connecticut behind him. On draft night, the then-Charlotte Bobcats selected Walker with the ninth pick.
Looking at it now, you might think it’s crazy that Walker was selected ahead of Leonard, Thompson, and Butler. But is though? After all, he did lead the Huskies to a national championship. Hailed the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, recipient of the Bob Cousy Award, averaged 23.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.9 steals per game in his final year at UConn.
Fast forward over a decade later– the NBA is seeing numerous changes and a generation of talents fading out of the picture. The entire draft class that came before Walker’s has only two players left in the league, and now, he is also on his way out at the early age of 33.
On Friday, Jul. 21, Walker signed with French side AS Monaco after 12 years in the NBA. But how did he go from single-handedly leading UConn to the chip and being the face of Charlotte to European hoops? Let’s look back at Walker’s rise and descent.
The face of the Bobcats/Hornets
While the state of North Carolina shines with incredible college basketball programs, the city of Charlotte has not been the most fortunate in the NBA. The Bobcats/Hornets are one of eleven franchises deprived of a title.
Then Walker landed in Queen City in 2011. Walker immediately became the starting point guard for the Cats and showcased his potential right off the bat. Each of his first years had different milestones as he continuously improved early on. In his rookie year, Walker became the third Bobcat to record a triple-double (20-11-10 against the Washington Wizards). As a sophomore, he hit his first NBA game-winner against the Minnesota Timberwolves. By his third year, Walker led Charlotte to their ninth playoff appearance in their 25 years as a franchise.
They missed the playoffs the following year but returned in 2016–Walker’s breakthrough season. Walker averaged 20 points, four rebounds, and five assists that year, his best by far in the NBA. The following season, he averaged a 23-5-5 stat line leading to his first All-Star selection. Walker was an All-Star for the three years that followed and was selected for the All-NBA Third team in 2018-19, his last year with Charlotte.
Moving role-player and injured placeholder
Would it be a Kyrie Irving tenure if it did not involve drama? The answer is no. The Boston Celtics’ attempt at bringing Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford together to boost their chances was a disaster. The fact that they had young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the same roster amplifies the disappointment.
By 2019, Walker found himself in Boston trying to fix what the No. 1 pick in his draft class left in shambles. Despite averaging identical numbers to his years in Charlotte and helping the Celtics reach the Eastern Conference Finals in the NBA Bubble, a resurfacing knee injury started the downward spiral for Walker.
After two years in green, Walker headed home to New York, where he played in 37 games averaging 11-3-3 for the Knicks. This stint was followed by a lone season in Dallas as the injuries continued to stunt his playtime. He played only 16 minutes in nine games for the Mavericks, averaging about eight points, two assists, and two rebounds. With Irving entering the Mavericks roster, they waived Walker in January.
What does the future hold for Walker?
AS Monaco is not an average team. Walker is joining the reigning champions of the LNB Pro A after sweeping Victor Wembanyama and Metropolitans 92 in a five-game series.
They also won the EuroCup in 2020-21, solidifying their place as one of the teams to watch in Europe.
Walker’s days in the NBA might be behind him. But with that comes a new challenge. He is one of the highest-profile signings by AS Monaco–his experience and presence could elevate them further in their progress. Walker is only 33, so do not be surprised if we see a resurgence shortly.