By: Alex Raskin Last Updated: 3/9/10 8:17 AM ET | 1258 times read
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Until now, Bill Walker was an ancillary character to NBA audiences.
Walker was O.J. Mayo's teammate at Cincinnati's North College Hill High School. He played next to Michael Beasley at Kansas State. Even when Walker went from the Celtics to the Knicks at the deadline, the buzz revolved around Nate Robinson and Eddie House.
But as Wilson Chandler missed a few games for New York due to personal reasons, Walker distinguished himself as a rare bright spot in an otherwise putrid season of Knicks basketball.
"I was getting a lot of feedback from ex-players, that the kid could really play," said Knicks President of Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh. "I had seen him play in college, and I had heard he was great in high school, so I was kind of expecting the guy could play. I didn't know how he was physically. Watching him since he's come here – the game against the Pistons and also the game before that, or after that – I thought he played really well. I'm really happy with what I see."
Walker followed a 21-point performance in a loss to Cleveland on March 1st with a 22-point game in a win over Detroit two nights later. The second-year swingman played over 35 minutes in each contest, which is important considering he logged more than 20 minutes in just one game during his tenure in Boston.
And that is the paradox of being deadline trade filler. Walker was on a winning team in Boston, but didn't have a spot in the rotation. In New York he can get over 35 minutes some nights – just not in May or June.
Was Walker cool with being traded?
"Not at first," he said. "I wanted to be part of a winning team, but at the same time I knew, coming over here, that I had the opportunity to play. It's like a double-edged sword."
Those who had seen Walker as an amateur knew this day would come eventually.
Thought to have lottery-pick potential, knee surgeries pushed Walker into the second round of the 2008 NBA Draft where the Wizards took him before trading him to Boston.
"The buzz was that he was a great high school player who got hurt, and got hurt at Kansas State as well," said Walsh. "Everyone just wanted to know 'how bad?' and that sort of thing. When I saw him play in, I think (in) the NCAAs, he looked great in the game I saw. I thought he was going to go back to school. He ended up not doing that."
Walker endured another knee surgery at the beginning of this season and spent the remainder of his Celtics days being shuffled between the NBA and the Maine Red Claws of the D-League.
The lack of playing time took its toll and now Walker is trying to regain strength in his knee without his once exemplary athleticism. In coach Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo system, that can mean trouble.
"I think he's somebody that's out of shape," said D'Antoni. "He hasn't played in two years and (being) over on the bench it's just tough to get in game shape.
"I think he makes a lot of fouls or whatever because he's tired, he's reaching," D'Antoni continued. "That should go away hopefully."
Walker (who says fatigue is "not that much of a factor") has been guilty of more than a few cheap fouls since joining the Knicks, but he's also shooting over 60% from the field for the month of March and has chipped in with four rebounds per game during that time.
An inexpensive young player such as Walker is a nice fit because the Knicks lack a first-round pick and hope to give out two maximum contracts this summer. That's why it's likely New York guarantees the contract of Walker (they have until July 8th).
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"If you end up getting two maxes, you need to fill the roster out," Walsh said. "And it would be great to have young players who have the kind of athletic ability that some of these kids do."
Walker told HOOPSWORLD he isn't concerning himself with the future of his contract, but he can always confide in his former Celtics and current Knicks teammate, J.R. Giddens, who is in a similar situation. While Giddens has yet to be healthy as a Knick, Walsh is eagerly anticipating his debut.
"He's a great athlete and he also has a great body," Walsh said of Giddens, who will be a free agent at year's end.
A second-year player, Giddens hasn't seen much playing time this season, but did show an unusual ability to rebound the basketball during the preseason. He had 13 boards in one preseason game against the Nets back in October.
"We were just talking and I told him, you're kind of like Shawn Marion, who could obviously rebound," said Walsh. "He could fit in very well into what Mike (D'Antoni) wants to do. I'm looking forward to him getting on the floor in the last couple of weeks of the season. I heard he's a great defender. I heard that from guys that played with him in Boston."
Thirteen rebounds in a preseason game against New Jersey and two 20-point performances in a hopeless season don't suggest superstardom for Giddens or Walker. Perhaps the best thing Knicks fans can take from Walker's play is that he succeeded without surprising himself. If he is back next season, he expects to continue this trend.
"We're in the NBA, man," Walker said. "People have good games every night. It's expected of you when you step on the court."
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