In a team survey asking which Knick would make the best standup comedian, the Knicks answered, almost to a man, Bill Walker. Which I found strange, because Walker usually looks like he’s one wrong look from snapping and killing everyone on the court. He has a little Kendrick Perkins in him – scowl on the court, sweetheart off it – and since arriving from Boston last year he’s shown flashes of NBA rotation quality.
Unfortunately, as great a standup as he might be, his best chance to win a title will probably come with him sitting down. Walker’s skill set is a study in positives – and there are positives – mitigated somehow by very specific negatives or a simple lack of production. His greatest skill would have to be his outside shooting, but his overall game doesn’t merit enough minutes for him to find a shooting groove – it’s unfair to expect him to come in and immediately get hot in just ten minutes a game. The Shawne Williams renaissance of last winter could’ve easily been the Bill Walker coming out party, but Williams did enough other things just well enough to keep himself on the floor after his three-point barrage leveled off.
The positives continue, and the negatives follow right along. Walker is an incredible leaper, but he has an awkward, two-footed gather (think Jason Richardson in the dunk contest) that makes it easy for defenders to anticipate an attempt at the basket and gives them plenty of time to challenge. The result was a slew of near misses that ESPN could’ve turned into a montage of Bill Walker’s Top Ten Missed Dunks.
Then there’s Walker’s patented term Bullyball, which if this were a movie would’ve led to a Willie Beamon-esque ascent to national stardom, replete with the BullyDrank energy drink, a cameo in a Waka Flocka video for his hit single “Bully,” and the Knicks City Dancers passing through Bully’s apartment like it was Penn Station. All right, that last one is probably happening anyway, but in reality, Bull Walker seems confused about exactly how Bullyball is supposed to play itself out on the court. A hint: the fouls are supposed to be on them. Among all guards who played in 40+ games, only six fouled more often than Walker, and at least two of those, Corey Brewer and Tony Allen, spent most of their time guarding their opponents’ most potent wing scorer. The converse statistic is equally jarring: among shooting guards appearing in 40+ games, only seven attempted fewer free throws per game than Walker.
Given his potent outside shooting and strength for his position, Walker figures to be a good candidate to get to the bucket with relative ease. And, to my eye, he is – especially later in the season, as teams began to respect his outside game, Walker penetrated more often and settled less. But what is he doing once he gets there? Well, we know about this missed dunks, and we know he doesn’t get fouled, and now the news goes from bad to worse: he isn’t finding open looks for teammates, either. Bully’s assist/turnover ratio of 0.92 placed him fifth from the bottom among all guards with 40+ games. His 2.3 turnovers per 48 minutes, while not terrible on its face, was actually higher than Toney Douglas’ 2.2, even though Toney was actually, you know, getting the occasional assist.
Walker’s strength does help out on the glass; he grabbed 7.5 boards per 48 minutes, good for tenth among all guards in 40+ games. The mitigator here – and there has to be one, right? – is that you have to play him at shooting guard. As a small forward, that number gets pretty pedestrian pretty quickly.
Walker is fortunate to be in essentially a perfect situation – he has a cap-friendly team option for next season, he plays in one of the league’s most visible markets, and he belongs to a playoff team with a massive question mark at shooting guard and will almost certainly give him another extended look next season, if only out of necessity. But this may be his last chance. Walker already has a major knee surgery under his belt and, despite losing weight last summer, didn’t look noticeably bouncier than before. He’ll turn 24 in October and, looking ahead to summer 2012, the shine may be off him as a prospect without marked improvement across the board in the coming season. We know the tools are there, and the best case for Walker is probably as a key bench player on a competitive team. Worst case? He’ll pick up some great standup material during his career overseas.