It’s good to have Antoine Walker news that involves a basketball court and not a court of law.
Walker is about to join the Idaho Stampede for the upcoming D-League season, the team announced Thursday. The former Celtics All-Star averaged 16 points per game in 43 games for Idaho last season. He had a 12-year NBA career but has’t been in the Association since 2008.
“I can’t wait to get back to Boise,” Walker said in a released and certainly cleaned up statement. “It’s a great place to live and I’m hoping I can help this team make the playoffs and win a championship – we’ve got some unfinished business to tend to.”
Walker has had all sorts of off-the court drama, and he has tried to get back to the NBA to make some money and help pay off massive casino debts. But this is not the time to dwell on that. Hopefully he is past it, and he is back on the court where I’d prefer to remember the swagger and the shimmy rather than what followed.
Antoine Walker schadenfreude is the internet’s unofficial pastime, which is reason enough to inform you that despite Walker’s relatively strong start with the D-League’s Idaho Stampede, he looked fairly incompetent during the two biggest games of his D-League career.
Concluding today is the D-League Showcase, which is, Essentially, a matter of convenience; rather than assuming that NBA teams are scouting the D-League full-time, they gather as many team officials, NBA scouts, and European scouts as possible in one gym (along with an NBA TV-viewing audience) and trot out teams from the D two at a time to strut their stuff. Now that NBA teams are able to sign players to 10-day contracts, the Showcase is a great tool to assist D-Leaguers in their call-up pursuits.
This year’s Showcase didn’t much help Walker, though, who is looking to resume his NBA career by playing through its minor league partner. Yet in Walker’s two games at the Showcase with the Idaho Stampede, he shot 4-of-26 from the field (15.4%), 2-of-10 from three-point range, and committed 12 turnovers. The D-League is stronger than ever, but those kinds of marks are hugely disappointing.
Plenty of NBA teams have dipped into the D-League for spot contributors, injury replacements, or hopeful additions, but Walker is in a different boat. He faces an uphill struggle for a call-up as it is; Walker has an established reputation in the NBA for being an out-of-shape ball-stopper with limited defensive ability, and this week he couldn’t even get the ball through the net. What is Walker going to offer an NBA team if not scoring? He’s not exactly a hustle player, nor the kind of veteran sage teams love to have in their locker rooms. Walker needs to make the most of all of his chances if he wants to really catch the attention of big league teams, and clanking away an opportunity like this one should serve as a setback.
On the off chance you haven’t caught some of the Idaho Stampede of the D-League this season — what cave have you been living in? — we have a little note for you:
Antoine Walker is playing pretty well. He is averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4 assists per game.
Dime Magazine has a Q&A with Greg Minor, a former teammate of Walker in Boston who is now an assistant coach for Idaho. He says that the maturity of Walker — both of person and game — makes him stand out at the D-League level.
In terms of his personality, he’s been through a lot. I don’t want to discuss those experiences, but they have helped shape him in a way that has him appreciate life more. Everyone here in the Idaho Stampede family really support him.
I think the most important thing about his game at this level is that his basketball IQ is just so much higher. After 13 seasons in the NBA, a former NBA All-Star, there’s some value in that. I think he still passes the ball really great, and he can get to certain spots on the floor. He’s a presence in the locker room as players gravitate towards him. He’s made it clear that he’s no different that anybody else, and there’s no one different than the team. He’s made guys buy into the want to get to that next level, and guys really respect that.
But can Walker get back to the NBA?
That’s up to him. The amount of time that he puts in, the amount of energy he expends, I think he’s determined. Who wouldn’t want to excel at this level to get a chance to be called up at this stage of his career? He knows the window is closing, and there’s a sense of urgency.
It’s a long shot, NBA teams are going to want real value out of Walker to bring him in as opposed to a young player they might be able to develop. But if his conditioning gets there, this is about all you can ask of him. It would be interesting.
At age 34, after having been out of competitive basketball for two years, what does Antoine Walker really have left in the tank?
Maybe a little something, after reading reports of his first game with the Idaho Stampede. Walker, teamed with Blazers first rounder and new D-Leaguer Luke Babbitt, got Idaho its first win of the season, and had 13 points on 5-11 shooting, six rebounds and three assists, according to Scott Schroeder of FanHouse.
The best description of his night came from Jay King of Celtics Blog.
Walker, as he has always done, made his coaches smile (his distribution yesterday was fantastic), and frown (one three-pointer fell a yardstick short of the rim). He could handle the ball like no other big man on the floor; like few guards, really. He took too many three-pointers (of course he did; he finished 0-3), but at his best Walker was driving by slower, less creative bigs. He was finding open shooters in the corner. He was utilizing the many basketball talents God gifted to him, talents Walker has so often squandered with poor decision-making and conditioning. And yes, he also notched his first D-League technical foul.
Walker’s conditioning — always an issue in the best of times — needs a lot of work. As you would expect. But maybe, just maybe there is still something there of value to an NBA team. We’ll have to see how he looks as the rust shakes off over the next few weeks.
Another NBA first round pick is headed to the D-League for some seasoning, a trend that is becoming more and more common.
Portland’s Luke Babbitt is the latest, according to Sam Amick of FanHouse. The reasoning is simple — you get better at basketball by playing basketball and right now Babbitt is out of the Portland rotation and getting paid to watch the games. He has played just 30 minutes spread over 8 games so far this season, and that has actually dwindled more lately.
He is headed to the 0-7 Idaho Stampede, who are suddenly getting interesting. Babbitt and Antoine Walker will make their starts for the team this Friday night.
Babbitt was drafted No. 16 by Minnesota last June but was traded on draft night to Portland as part of the Martell Webster deal.