Watching NBA assignee Bill Walker play in the D-League, it is abundantly clear that there isn’t some physical flaw keeping him out of the Association right now.
At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, the man moves as though he weighs 25 pounds less than that, and in spite of (this is an approximation) four trillion knee surgeries, he remains quite a leaper. Walker physically dominates the competition in the D-League.
Take Saturday night in Springfield, for example, when he did whatever he wanted offensively for most of the night. Walker sliced through the lane to the rim like defenders weren’t there, finishing with contact and earning two three-point plays the hard way. Armor defenders could not stop him from getting to the spots he wanted. This led to a 17-point performance on 6-for-10 shooting from the field to go with a perfect 4-for-4 from the charity stripe before Walker called it an early night in the Maine Red Claws’ 117-89 blowout victory.
There is little reason to doubt that this sort of performance will be the norm for Walker as long as he remains in the D-League. He has NBA strength at his position. He has NBA speed, and he is explosive around the rim.
All of that is exactly why Walker’s prospects for finding his way back to the NBA and staying there won’t hinge on how dominant he is as a scoring force at this level. This is about improving his game from the neck up.
From his high school days at North College Hill to his time at Kansas State to last season with the Celtics, Walker has always had the physique to be a special player. Finding a way to put his tools together and harness his energy on the court has been and continues to be the biggest challenge. As a rookie for the Celtics last season, Walker averaged 8.5 fouls per 36 minutes and posted a 20.9 turnover percentage. What matters most for Walker these days is cutting down on the silly fouls – the hacking instead of moving his feet defensively and the head-down-and-bull-through offensive fouls as well as moving screens like the one he set Saturday. It’s about learning to move the ball instead of trying to dribble unsuccessfully through a double-team at the top of the circles.
While there is still an argument to be made for needing a bit more depth at the swing spots in Boston (particularly if the newly injured Marquis Daniels is going to be the de facto backup point guard when healthy), it remains hard to imagine Walker playing too many minutes as a part of Doc Rivers’ rotation if he were up with the big club at this point. Staying with Maine gives him the chance to get some run on a regular basis, and that’s the most important thing for him at this point. He may still be working his way back a bit from offseason surgery, but more significantly, the more time Walker spends on courts in game situations somewhere, the more opportunities he has to work on the nuances of his game and to play smarter, more controlled basketball. It’s all about reps at this point, and getting some more of those for his suspect outside shot wouldn’t hurt either.
Bill Walker plays at a different physical level from many of his NBA D-League counterparts. It’s up to him to use the extra floor time in Maine to work on the little things in his game that will make his whole package greater than the sum of its parts.
As for the other assignee currently teaming up with Walker for the Claws, I’m not sure what it is I’m supposed to like about Alexis Ajinca’s offensive game. The 2008 Charlotte first-rounder is a 7-footer who weighs just 220 pounds and doesn’t seem all that interested in going inside at the offensive end. He relies too much on an outside jumper that isn’t that effective in the first place, and his hands leave plenty to be desired, too.
At the defensive end, Ajinca’s long arms help make him a shot-blocking presence, but he is a foul machine who gets out-muscled down low. Neither of those issues bodes well for his prospects as a stopper in the NBA.
The ‘Cats drafted Ajinca knowing he was a project, and it’s clear he still has a long way to go.
Major Wingate came off the bench to mark himself one of the few bright spots of the Springfield Armor’s weekend. Wingate looked smooth in the post and dropped in a couple of mid-range jumpers as well en route to a 5-for-7 night from the field plus 7-for-8 foul shooting for 17 points and 9 rebounds in 28 minutes. Good showing.
Good things happen when you sprint hard on every play: Springfield’s 6-foot-4 JamesOn Curry tracked down five offensive rebounds on Saturday night. One in particular proved especially valuable as Curry dug out a ball in the left corner that appeared such a cinch to go out of bounds that no one else moved toward it. After setting himself in bounds, Curry realized that none of the other nine players on the floor were in the same zip code as him and calmly drained a three.
Darnell Lazare looked terrific for the Claws on Saturday. He heated up in the second quarter by spraying in several face-up mid-range jumpers, then knocked down a tough turnaround and followed that by getting to the rim for a bucket and drawing a foul. Terrific 19-point night on 9-for-12 shooting.
A week ago, I made the following observation about the Sioux Falls Skyforce’s offense after a loss to Dakota:
Found myself very surprised at how small a part Reggie Williams played in the Skyforce offense. Coming off a 29-point season opener (on 10-of-13 shooting, no less), Williams was a non-factor in the first half and finished the day with just eight points on 3-for-7 shooting. While the Wizards did an effective job defensively, it didn’t look like Sioux Falls made a particularly concerted effort to feature him.
This appears to have been a one-time concern. In two games since the loss to Dakota, Williams has taken 42 shots from the field and 21 free throws (hitting 19 of those), scoring 35 and 33 points in those two games. That includes a smooth dribble-drive pull-up in the lane to score the tying basket that sent Erie-Sioux Falls to overtime on Saturday night, though the Skyforce fell by two in the extra frame.
Also in that Erie-Sioux Falls overtime contest, Erie center John Bryant notched his fourth double-double in as many games, and this one proved the most impressive yet: 29 points and 16 boards (8 offensive).
Some thoughts from the Austin Toros’ thrilling 104-103 win in Albuquerque on Saturday (though it wasn’t quite as close as the score indicates because Keith McLeod nailed a trey at the buzzer in what was a four-point game):
- For a guy who seemed to turn it up and threaten to take over for a brief period in the second half, McLeod had a rough shooting night: 9-for-24 from the field and just four trips to the foul line. He had one lay-in-three-lay-in sequence, but other than that, lots of inefficiency.
- Interesting final minute for Austin’s Dwayne Jones: bricked a pair at the line with his team down one, grabbed an offensive rebound and made a put-back to put his team up one, hit both ends of a pair of freebies to ice the game in the waning seconds.
- Every time I watch Curtis Jerrells play, I flash back to him killing Missouri in Baylor’s first-round upset over the Tigers in the 2007 Big XII Tournament. He destroyed the black and gold to the tune of 31 points on 12-for-17 shooting in a 14-point victory. Argh.
- Fellow ‘Zou faithful member Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm wrote last week about Alonzo Gee. The message: He’s the real deal. Cosign. We’ll be watching him.
- Great offensive performances for Albuquerque’s Carlos Powell and Austin’s recently assigned Malik Hairston.
Name you need to know: Sundiata Gaines. Leads the league in scoring at 27 per game for Idaho. Know how many games he has started so far? Zero.
Finally, the now-requisite update on this week’s D-Leaguer of Intrigue, Orien Greene: He shot the ball quite well by average basketball standards and on-another-planet well by Orien Greene standards on Saturday, knocking down 7-of-9 attempts, including a couple of critical elbow and wing jumpers in the fourth quarter of Utah’s 104-99 win in Bakersfield.
However, as noted on Twitter, I get annoyed in a hurry when I hear announcers make comments along the lines of “Like we’ve said all night, every time the ball comes to him, everyone slows down, and he gets a good look at shot” when said comments are patently untrue. While Greene was busy having some magical Jeterian (attribution: Fire Joe Morgan) calming influence over his teammates, he was also giving the ball to the other team seven times. Seriously, seven, including an awful errant pass that led to a fast-break lay-up and cut the Utah lead to two late in the fourth. Offsets the shooting a bit.
The shooting looks better than I expected, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves about the rest of Greene’s game.
Of course, not that we’ve reached Orien Greene once more, it’s time to wrap up for the morning. We’re back over the next couple of days, possibly with some more residual anger about one other thing I heard from announcers this weekend that will merit a full-length tirade when the time is right. Catch ya on the flip side (or on Twitter, follow us!).