Tales of the NBA Draft Part II - RaptorsHQ Talks to Bill Walker

In the second part of their two-part series, the HQ looks at the other side of the draft, the second round, and in the process, talks to an HQ favourite, the New York Knicks' Bill Walker...

Under Bryan Colangelo's watch, the Toronto Raptors have drafted the following players in the second round:

--PJ Tucker

--Georgios Printezis

--Nathan Jawai

During that same time-frame, the following second-rounders have been selected:

Craig Smith, Daniel Gibson, Paul Millsap, Leon Powe, Ryan Hollins, Carl Landry, Glenn Davis, Kyrylo Fesenko, Dominic McGuire, Marc Gasol, Aaron Gray, Ramon Sessions, Mario Chalmers, DeAndre Jordan, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, Kyle Weaver, Sonny Weems, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Goran Dragic, Jeff Pendergraph, Dante Cunningham, DeJuan Blair, Jonas Jerebko, Marcus Thornton and Chase Budinger.

Now, we're not talking Kobe Bryant or even Ron Artest here.

However we are talking about a great number of players who over the past four seasons, have made impacts to varying degrees on their respective clubs.  Some like Paul Millsap have become household names while others like Marc Gasol aren't there yet, but have extremely bright futures.

As well, I could have added another 10 or so names to the list, names of players who are just starting to show signs of breaking through, or who have yet to play despite having large upsides.  Some players that would fall into these two categories include the likes of Nick Calathes, Danny Green, and Gabe Pruitt.

More and more it seems that the first round of the NBA draft is muddied with "high-potential" prospects who simply don't turn out, while proven college stars and role players get pushed into the second-round.  Unfortunately the Toronto Raptors have not been able to take advantage of this to any degree.

One-such player who they lit slip through their fingers (in favour of Nathan Jawai to my chagrin) was Bill Walker.

Readers may remember that Walker has been one of my favourite players for quite some time, dating back to his days before Kansas State.

Walker was viewed as the second-coming of Vince Carter at one point, albeit a more aggressive version, and you can see from why from the following clips:


However thanks to a string of ACL injuries, Walker went from being a top 10 recruit out of High School, to an eventual second-round pick, drafted 47th overall by the Washington Wizards but flipped to the Boston Celtics for cash on draft day.  He failed to see much daylight on the veteran Celtics' bench, however it gave him a chance to practice with some of the best in the game and hone his skills.  Finally, after being dealt to the Knicks along with Eddie House and others in exchange for Nate Robinson, Walker got to strut his stuff and the results were quite impressive.

Walker went from averaging less than a point and a rebound a game in under 3.6 minutes a game on average with the C's, to nearly 12 points, 3 boards an assist and a steal per game with the Knickerbockers.

Most impressive however were his shooting numbers.

For a player regarded as simply a slasher and dunker early in his career, Walker shot 52% from the field with the Knicks, including 43% from beyond the arc.  He now looks like a steal and a very interesting piece to combine with any of the big name free-agents this off-season should the Knicks land one or two.

After a late Raps vs Knicks game last season, I had a chance to talk to the former Wildcat regarding his "fall from grace" so to speak, and subsequent re-emergence on the NBA scene, something that not many players do in their careers:

 

RHQ:  Talk to us a bit about your decision to leave Kansas State along with Michael Beasley, despite injury concerns (he re-injured his ACL in a work-out with Golden State during the draft process.)

Bill Walker:  I looked at it a couple ways; yes, my stock maybe wasn't where it could have been, but I knew I'd get picked and really, I could risk being really injured in college the next season and never realize my dream, or just go ahead and make the best out of my situation and go to the NBA.  It's been a dream of mine, I wanted to go ahead and do it, and I felt I could play on an elite level, and that's what I based my decision off of.  But it's different for every player, some decisions aren't the best (laughs, as do I), but, I mean, it's all about what you as a player want to do.  If you feel you can make it on this level and are willing to put the work in, go for it.  But you have to be real with yourself you know, this is a grown man's league, so you have to be ready for that.

RHQ:  Now did you work with your coaches through the process?  How involved do they get in a decision like the one you made?

BW:  They do, but ultimately the decision comes down to you like I said.  Coach (Frank) Martin had experience in stuff like this so yes, I talked to him at times but also relied on my own judgement.

RHQ:  What about Michael (Beasley), he was being drafted that year as well, did you seek his advice?

BW:   Oh yeah, we'd talk back and forth for sure but our situations were quite different, many thought he'd be the number one pick overall.

RHQ:  Going back in time here, would you have done the exact same thing considering you ended up being a second round pick?

BW:  Yeah, I don't look back and do things like that so I can't even answer that question really...but yes, it could have turned out completely different.  Maybe I would have gone back though and had a bad season and then not even been drafted...you never know.

RHQ:  Do you think it was the injury concerns that mainly dropped you out of the first round?

BW:  I think there was a good deal of that for sure and I get that.  I mean, NBA coaches and GM's, their jobs are on the line too so they want to make the best decision and a lot of the time, that's a risk-free one you know.  I also think people didn't know what to make of me in terms of a position at the next level.  I mean, if I couldn't jump like I did in high-school, could I be a factor in the league.

RHQ:  Do you think teams focus too much on athleticism come draft time?  There always seems to be this premium on things like "explosiveness."

BW:  Again, I think teams look to play it safe for the most part so an injured guy is a big question mark.

RHQ:  Was that frustrating considering what you did at K-State?  You scored in a variety of ways there, you even played power forward a lot and did a good chunk of your damage by posting-up and even from beyond the arc.

BW:  Naaah, it just made me more hungry to show folks when I got to this level, what I could do.  Even if I hadn't gotten drafted, I still would have put in the work and made it to this level, I know it.  I just knew I could hang with these guys and this type of talent, so it was all about just getting a chance to show what I could do.  Luckily that chance came in the second round as opposed to going through Summer League or Free Agency you know?

RHQ:  What about on draft day, did you have an idea of where you were going to go?  Did you think you'd end up being a second-round pick as opposed to a first-round one?

BW:  Naaah, not really.  I just watched the draft like I do every year.  I got picked 47th, got traded to Boston, and I'm here now (laughs.)

RHQ:  Can you contrast your time in Boston, obviously you were behind a lot of veterans that had their end goals, an NBA Title, in mind, and now you're thriving in this system in New York.

BW:  It's a different system, but really, it's all about having an opportunity to play; to go out there and be able to make mistakes and learn from the mistakes I make.  Teams like Boston, you know, they don't have room for mistakes so it's hard to put young guys out there and play mistake free - it's hard for anybody looking over their shoulder.  That's just the situation I was in.

RHQ:  What's it like playing for Mike D'Antoni?

BW:  It's fun...  

RHQ:  ...compared to your college coach who everyone assumes is so intense...

BW:  ...aaah, that's a big misconception.

RHQ:  Is it?

BW:  Yeah, a big misconception.  Frank is just one of those guys who you can tell just wants to get out on the court, and be out there playing.  It's good that he's like that, so in tune with the game.  I mean, he's a fiery guy and wants to win, but he's not maniac (laughs.)  Coach D'Antoni though is the complete opposite of that, you know, get out there, move the ball, have fun type thing, so it's two different approaches.

RHQ:  Last question, if you were to give advice to a player going through the draft process, someone who like might not end up being a first-round pick, what would be the one thing you'd tell them?

BW:  Man...I'd say never let anyone tell you what you can't do...that would be my biggest thing.  Because at the end of the day, the decision's still yours, it's still your life, and don't let anyone make that decision for you.  The work ahead of you is going to be hard enough as it is, so you have to be 100% comfortable with your own decision, so do it for you. 

 

The talk with Walker was actually one of my favourite interviews of all time.  Not because of my previous bias towards his game as one of my favourite college kids, but because you felt you could talk with him all day.  He was very open about things, eloquent, and you could feel his hunger for wanting to be the best possible player, something I can't say I feel very often when talking to guys at this level.  Whereas Hasheem Thabeet came off as somewhat insecure about his future, Walker, despite being the much lower pick, and a player without the same development opportunities early on, came off seeming like a future star.

I wanted to point this last part out because it's something that really has been lacking from the Toronto Raptors via the draft.  For instance talking to DeMar DeRozan, you get the feeling the kid tries very hard, but you never feel a sort of "all-encompassing confidence" about his future.  Andrea is well, Andrea, and really, the closest thing to that swagger, not to be confused with cockiness, has been via Sonny Weems.

Interestingly, while Weems was not drafted by Toronto, he too was a second-round pick viewed in much the same light as Walker; an athlete who was out of his league basketball IQ-wise, and a true project.  Like Walker, Weems had to wait for his chance but when he got it, he truly seized the reins.

Bringing things full circle, I'm hoping the Raps grab a second pick this year, be it late in the first-round or in the second half of the draft.  The team needs an infusion of cheap talent for sure, but also could use a major dose of that "chip on the shoulder" mentality that often comes with players who feel they've been scorned in the draft.

Paul Pierce and Caron Bulter both took that approach even though they were still lottery picks, and countless others have done it as well.  For a Raptors team that's often viewed as being "too nice," and crumbling in late-game and pressure-filled situations, more grit of this type is a must.

And perhaps Bryan Colangelo and co have finally gotten the memo.

The Raptors were reportedly part of a group of 23 teams watching workouts in New Jersey yesterday with the vast majority of players who participated being likely second-round picks.  Stand-outs from the list include Jon Scheyer, Omar Samhan, Darrington Hobson, Dexter Pittman, Scottie Reynolds, Wayne Chism, Jerome Jordan, Luke Harangody, Manny Harris, Brian Zoubek and Jerome Randle, as well as two key propsects Toronto has already brought in for workouts - Stanley Robinson and Gani Lawal.  Are the Dinos taking an even closer look at the latter two?

It's possible, and with a draft pick of some type being a likely piece of a return package involving Chris Bosh, it makes sense for the team to take a close look at guys who could end up slipping into the late first round or second half of the draft.

A player from the group who could turn out to be a major sleeper?  Jerome Randle, a diminutive point guard from Cal.  He's tested out extremely well both on the court and statistically and could be a very interesting find for a team late in the draft.

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