Is there room in the NBA for Thomas Walkup?

I posted this steam of consciousness “take” on Thomas Walkup at the APBRmetrics board, decided to go ahead and post it here:

kjb asks:

Has anyone seen Thomas Walkup play? He’s older and he played against weaker competition, but was very productive. Looks like he’ll go undrafted. Might be a nice UdFA for someone.

Thomas Walkup is an exceptional player. I watched him a few times last season – including every minute his stand out play in the NCAA tourney against supposedly “better” competition.

There’s an element of play that can’t be easily pinpointed that results in exceptional production at the college level (adjusting for comp, etc) – it’s a court awareness, hand eye coordination, alpha male type thing. Combine data (length, standing reach, etc) usually does it no justice. In football – it’s like Tom Brady going into the draft. Or Tony Romo. There’s just something, innate ability to feel the rush, read the defense, stay cool under pressure. In college basketball – it usually manifests itself in ACTUAL high level performances again & again that greatly outpaces many players who will be drafted well ahead of said player. Now, these players do tend to be older – so there’s an easy excuse to overlook them. Draymond Green was one of these guys coming out of college. Denzell Valentine is one. Brice Johnson is one. Buddy Hield would have been one if he wasn’t breaking three point records – which got him lottery attention.

Obviously my ratings love Walkup, my projections will love him (despite low three point attempts for a guard and his advanced age). He has a very nice shooting stroke – I don’t see any reason why he won’t be an effective 3pt shooter. To me, I FULLY EXPECT him to be a BETTER Dellavedova type player. He was easily THE star (NO teammates anywhere close to a next level player) on a top 30 college team. Stephen F Austin ended up MUCH better than LSU & Simmons (NOT saying he’s a better prospect than Simmons btw, just making point about player impact). They were MUCH better than Washington – who somehow could have TWO players in the lottery who weren’t even close to the best players on their own Huskies team. Stephen F Austin was a fairly high level college team almost solely because of Thomas Walkup. He’s obviously a immense gym rat by looking at his level of usage, assist rate, mid range efficiencies. He’s built like a 6’4″ piece of granite.

Slightly related note – would Larry Bird or Charles Barkley be high lottery picks if they came out of college in today’s game? Bird was OLD, slow, not athletic, and starred on a team not much different than Stephen F Austin. Would be an elite three point shooter – that’d maybe get him in the lottery?

Barkley was a 6’4″ fat post player with little face up game yet – although he ran the court great for a fat guy. I can’t imagine an NBA team giving him the time of day in today’s draft (fear of injury, eating himself out of the league, not being able to defend any position).

In terms of college production, Bird & Barkley would have easily been right at the top of their draft classes according to my draft model. Teams OFTEN drafted back then more according to relative college production (although at times did a poor job of adjusting correctly for pace, SoS, etc – think Bo Kimble) – and it seems when they ventured away from that (like they do often now) they usually failed miserably (think Chris Washburn & Olowokandi). It seems when high school kids became part of the draft – NBA teams started to put MUCH more importance into combine results and private workouts, in many cases almost completely ignoring relative college production. I think this is part of the reason why the draft has turned so much into a crapshoot for many teams – it’d be like baseball teams almost completely ignoring minor league production when considering who to call up – relying instead on 40 times, bench press, shuttle runs, and private workouts to judge players. Makes it easy for a draft model like mine (through retrodictions) to historically outperform actual draft positions while ignoring 95% of the data (combines, workouts, interviews, medical records, etc) most NBA teams consider.

So, again, my draft model will love Walkup. My eye’s saw a next level player – I saw a college player that produced in a way I would have expected a 23 year old Manu Ginobili to produce if he played on that SFA team – high motor, high usage, great efficiency across the board, good assist rate, etc. I’ll bet about anything he’ll prove to be well worth the “risk” of a late 2nd round pick or FA signing.

Dan

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