Kemba Walker's 2010-11 season is well-documented. He was a First-Team All-American, scored over 800 points, won the Bob Cousy Award as the nation's best point guard, and he led the UConn Huskies to a 14-0 tournament record and a national championship.
In short, it was the greatest single-season in school history.
His college coach, Jim Calhoun, has seen a lot of great players in his 25 years at Connecticut, including the sure-to-be Hall of Famer Ray Allen. None of them, he says, have ever worked harder than Kemba. The improvement between his sophomore and junior seasons –- which saw him go from being somewhat unknown to arguably the nation's best player –- is proof of that.
Even so, questions linger about Walker's prospects as an NBA player -– most notably, whether or not he can transition to being a point guard at the next level.
Amid all the Kemba praise has been the worry that he's that classic "tweener," a guy that's a shooting guard trapped in a point guard's body. But why?
Coming into college, several scouting reports labeled him the best pure point guard in his class. Whenever he played alongside guard A.J. Price as a freshman for UConn's 2008-09 Final Four team, it was Kemba that ran the show, with Price shifting over to the shooting guard spot. (Price now plays for the Indiana Pacers. His position at the NBA level? Point guard.)
During his sophomore campaign, Walker averaged more than five assists per game, despite there being no other pro players on the team. Granted, his decision-making was noted as something in need of improvement, but he was still considered a pure point as recently as the 2009-10 season.
So what changed?
First and foremost, Kemba turned his always-shaky jumpshot into a steady one. He upped his average to 23.5 points per game for the 2010-11 season, the fourth-most in the nation, and gained the ability to consistently carry his team on the offensive end.
And on a team with seven freshmen that lost 60 percent of its scoring from the year prior, that's something he would have to do on a regular basis.
Guard Jeremy Lamb didn't emerge until the second half of the season, center Alex Oriakhi was more inconsistent than the New England weather, and Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith were streaky freshmen who would get outmuscled in the WNBA right now. Who on the team was he supposed to dish out assists to? Himself?
Kemba didn't lose his playmaking ability, nor did he become a volume shooter by choice; it's something he needed to do for his team to succeed.
But even with his lack of options and supposed playmaking inability, he still managed a 1.98 assist-to-turnover ratio –- a far better mark than the 1.33 that Brandon Knight posted in his freshman year at Kentucky. Yet most people have Knight pegged as the second-best point guard prospect in the draft.
That's not to say playmaking isn't an area Kemba needs to improve on to make the leap to the next level. Like any incoming rookie, he'll have to get (a lot) better in that regard to become a successful floor general in the NBA.
The point, though, is that while his scoring is further along than his passing, he is still very much a point guard, at least in the sense that Derrick Rose and Tony Parker are points (no, he won't be as good as either of them). Both Rose and Parker are better scorers than they are passers, but they still possess enough playmaking ability to be able to run their teams. The same thing applies to Kemba.
Need a closer comparison? Jameer Nelson and Devin Harris. Both had similar questions as Kemba does entering their respective drafts, and yet they were able to make the necessary transitions and have had more-than-solid careers thus far (including an All-Star Game apiece). Kemba has the potential to be at least that good.
Or he may never make an impact in the NBA. But if he doesn't, it won't be because of the myth that he isn't a point guard.
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