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Excited To Have Walker Aboard Right Away

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A Daily Babble Production

As Jeff noted on Sunday, indications from the Celtics brass are that Bill Walker will not be going overseas as planned but is instead expected to stay with the Celtics.  File me under 'fairly excited' by this development.

Admittedly, I haven't been overly enamored with the Celtics' off-season thus far.  Well, that's at least as far as preparation for 2008-09 is concerned as the whole "being champions" deal has worked out quite well.  Since the preference here is not to get too wrapped up in really breaking down those moves until we at least get within a month of the season (and actually seeing this team play once said season starts will provide considerably more understanding for all of us), we'll table the overall off-season commentary with the relatively objective assessment that there are a lot of question marks on the Celtics' bench moving forward.

While those question marks aren't necessarily wholly settling for the fan base of a team looking to defend a championship, one of the upsides is that joy of exploring the unknown, seeing who can truly hang in this league and who has the potential to explode over the seasons to come.  Again, that upshot is definitively not preferable for a team in win-now mode (as the Celtics should be) to feeling much more secure about the team's depth, but that curiosity has become one of the more fun parts of this off-season.  To that end, Walker intrigues me as much as any of the uncertainties on this team.

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In his draft profile of Walker, ESPN's Chad Ford writes, "Walker's second ACL injury ended all the talk about him being a top-5 pick."  There are two major points to take out of that phrasing.  The first is that, yes, as has been discussed ad nauseam, Walker has a problematic injury history, and there are certainly concerns about his legs.  The other point is that there was talk of this guy being one of the top five picks in the NBA draft.  He has the capability to be good.  Really, really good.

Between his ongoing recovery from injury and the entrance of the nation's most impressive individual player to his school's program, Walker spent a good part of last season toiling in the shadow of Michael Beasley.  That's fair enough as Beasley was a fantastic college player who is likely to make it big for himself in the NBA as well.  But Walker had a very nice season in his own right.  In 27.3 minutes per game last season, he averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 boards and shot 46.5 percent from the field, a major improvement from the 40 percent he shot his freshman year. 

At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Walker possesses solid size and excellent bulk for a small forward.  He attacks the rim hard and had incredible leaping ability prior to the ACL injury in the midst of his freshman year. Though he's still recovering from that injury and has undoubtedly had that athleticism affected by his surgeries, Walker still has plenty of explosiveness left.  Having the opportunity to see him play in person during his sophomore season left it apparent that Walker can still get up.  He has packed a ton of strength into his frame and has the ability to overpower his man both in the post and as a slasher.  He has reportedly been working hard on his outside shot, which needs some work, but he has the capability to become a highly explosive scorer.  The quickness, the length, the strength and the jumping are there, and the range is coming.  

Walker could also just as well be a bust.  He needs to improve his ball-handling and become a better decision-maker.  Walker's shot selection could improve, and he needs to be more careful with the ball.  There was significant concern among scouts about his turnover-prone nature.  These are things he needs to commit to fixing if he is going to make it at the pro level.

As I read through my own words, it sounds like I could just as easily be describing Tony Allen, another Celtics draft pick with immense physical talents but injuries and head issues that have hampered him from reaching his full potential thus far.  Bill Walker is significantly bigger than Tony Allen.  He arrives in Boston as a player who was far more highly touted during his healthy college days and a player who has already been humbled by a set of significant injuries.  Walker has the wingspan and quickness to become a capable defender and all the tools to become a prolific scorer one day in this league if he stays focused.  From everything written about him in the Globe article linked above, it sounds like Walker is off to a good start so far as staying determined to improve is concerned.

This isn't to say that Bill Walker will be a star in this league or that he will even be any sort of significant contributor this season.  He likely won't be consistent, and he'll probably meet his share of ups and downs.  But as much as anybody else, he has the capability to provide a spark off the bench for this team from time to time.  In an off-season of moves shrouded in uncertainty, Walker provides a captivating set of questions moving forward.

Because if Bill Walker can answer those questions anywhere near successfully, the Celtics are going to have a heckuva prospect on their hands.