Bill Walker a welcome addition in South Florida?
I know that it’s draft time and that I should be focusing my every word on it. But you can get that kind of information from just about anywhere. So in my eternal quest to be both creative and thorough, I thought I might focus on the bench for a moment.
Heat fans are starting to get their first few doses of bad news, not the least of which is the mutual interest between the Los Angeles Lakers and Raja Bell.
The Heat will need a good handful of low-cost players to fit under the cap if the master plan works out. Losing Bell would, quietly, be a significant blow to the team’s depth. So I started scouring the landscape of free agent alternatives. My search has taken me to the far reaches of my own sanity, whereupon I’ve stumbled upon an intriguing possibility.
Let me ask you this: How many players in the NBA this past season shot at least 50% from the floor, at least 40% from beyond the arc, and at least 79.59% from the free throw line?
Steve Nash. Mike Miller. Nicolas Batum. Rodrigue Beaubois. And Bill Walker.
That’s four guys making big dollars, and one making the league minimum. But Walker presents an intriguing possibility nonetheless.
His road to the NBA has been an excruciating one.
As a high schooler, he was widely considered to be a superstar. He had been selected to numerous All-America teams. He was the first player to attend the Adidas ABCD Camp in New Jersey three times, and won the MVP his final time, an award given out to the likes of Lebron James and Kobe Bryant.
For his efforts as a three-year starter, Walker was a consensus Top 10 recruit – more highly sought after than fellow teammate O.J. Mayo. Several scouts were prepared to draft him straight out of high school.
After receiving interest from many NCAA teams, Walker enrolled at Kansas State as a part-time student in order to be eligible to play in December of 2006, midway through season the 2006/07 season.
At 6’6″ and 220 pounds, before arriving in Kansas, Walker was about as much a sure thing as a high school basketball player can be. There was only one question about him: Was a right knee injury he suffered during his freshman year of high school cause for concern?
That question was answered almost immediately. He ruptured the ACL in his other knee in a game against Texas A&M in January of 2007, which required surgery and abruptly ended his freshman season.
When his sophomore season finally arrived, Walker was back – this time to play alongside another star talent by the name of Michael Beasley. This time around, the question of whether he would still be the dynamic player he was before two ACL surgeries was being asked by NBA scouts.
Naturally, Beasley took the spotlight. Michael lit it up in his one season at K-State, staking his claim as the best player in all of college basketball. But by no means was Walker a sideshow. Walker carried K-State during stretches of the teamâ€™s first round upset of USC in the 2008 NCAA tournament, while Beasley was on the bench dealing with foul trouble.
The performance vaulted Walker back onto the radars of several NBA scouts.
Walker and Beasley entered the 2008 NBA Draft together, with both projected as lottery picks.
But during a pre-draft workout with the Warriors, Walker suffered yet another knee injury. This time it was a torn meniscus, and while not career-threatening, it was cause for major concern.
Having already suffered three major knee surgeries, his dreams of being a first round pick were shattered. The Wizards eventually selected him 47th, and subsequently traded him to the Celtics, who immediately thereafter relegated him to the D-League. He spent the better part of 2008/09 season playing some impressive ball in the country’s inferior professional league.
On the last day in September 2009, Walker left Celtics practice with an injured knee, and an MRI revealed a torn meniscus, which required him to miss training camp as well as the first month of the regular season, and derailed his chances to make the squad. It was Walker’s second operation on his right knee, bringing that joint even with the two cuts on his left.
Upon his return, despite obvious potential, Walker was no longer in the Celtics’ plans as they were busy attempting to repeat as NBA champions. At the trade deadline this past season, he once again was traded, this time to New York as part of the package deal that sent Nate Robinson to Boston.
With the Knicks looking to overhaul their roster this off-season – in much the same way the Heat plan to – head coach Mike D’Antoni basically used this past season to conduct live, in-game tryouts for everyone on the roster.
Walker responded in a big way.
In his time with the Knicks, Walker has shot 51.8% from the field and 43.1% from beyond the arc, averaging 11.9 points and 3.1 rebounds in 27 minutes per game. In the last game of the season, he led his team to victory with a career high 28 points, in a must win contest for the Raptors in Toronto.
He’s a freakish athlete, having performed an array of highlight reel dunks that would have you believe his injuries are surely behind him. Walker delivers the Nate-Robinson-esque scoring punch from off the bench that the Heat so desperately needs. And he does it with better defense and the versatility in his game to play either swing position.
At just 22 years of age and commanding nothing more than the minimum player salary, it’s certainly a risk the Heat should consider taking. It is conceivable that Walker could receive some major minutes in South Florida, both in a backup role to Dwyane Wade and in his more natural small forward position. And with nothing more than a minimum contract, the potential for injury should not be an overriding concern.
The problem, after this big long soliloquy, is that he remains under contract to the Knicks. Walker has an unguaranteed contract for the next two seasons at the player minimum. However, his contract becomes fully guaranteed if he is not waived prior to July 8. Walker will no doubt be a side show on that day, but an important one, nonetheless, that the Heat should take note of. If the Knicks opt in favor of the added cap space, Pat should place a call.