Antoine Walker is as well-known for being a punchline in jokes about broke athletes (thanks to blowing $100 million on bad investments) as he was for anything he ever did on a basketball court.
The epitome of both wasted potential and hilariously inefficient shooting—well, it was funny if you were a fan of the other team—Walker is a guy whose legacy is one of a cautionary tale.
But he was also the second-best player on a Celtics team that nearly went to the NBA Finals at a time when the Eastern Conference existed entirely to provide cannon fodder for the Lakers and Spurs, and he did score over 15,000 points in a 12-year NBA career, even getting a ring in 2006 with the Miami Heat as the seventh man and the fourth-leading scorer on that team.
Unlike previous entrants in this series, Walker is not a Hall of Famer. He was considered a solid starting lineup-caliber player for his first nine years in the league, and you can’t blow $100 million and end up broke without first making $100 million. He was a max-contract guy back when max contracts weren’t worth much more than $14 million and still managed to top nine figures for his career.
Since as always with this running feature, we compare players to the expectations that organizations and fans put on them, rather than hold Walker to the standard of a Hall of Fame player, we’re going to ask if the numbers back up the assertion that he was worth being a three-time All-Star and second-best player on a good team. In essence, in 2020 terms, we’re holding him to the standard of Khris Middleton, Anthony Davis, and Paul George.
The Counting Stats
First off, let’s get the obvious out of the way.
Even by the standards of the most cover-your-eyes-awful shooting era in the last 40 years, Walker was a YMCA chucker.
He shot 41.4 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from long range, against a league average (Basketball Reference just came out with some amazing “adjusted shooting” tools that provide the basis for these numbers) of 44.7 and 35.3 percent respectively.
And even though Walker was ahead of his time in shooting a lot of long-range shots (his career 3PAR of .290 and his .439 3PAR in his last couple of years in Miami wouldn’t be all that out of place in 2020), he still posted a career eFG% of just .461 against a league average of .480.
The guy was ahead of his time in 3-is-more-than-2 and still couldn’t put up efficient scoring numbers. That’s downright insane.
Walker was so putrid a shooter that in a year when he made the All-Star Game (2002-03), he shot 38.8 percent from the field and took so many shots that he still managed to score 20.1 points per game in 41.5 minutes.
The amount of pure yikes in that stat is staggering.
Walker was also a crummy free throw shooter, hitting 63.3 percent for his career but never shooting better than 55.4 percent from the line after he left Boston. Which, combined with his woes from the field, left him with a career TS% of .484. To say that is steaming hot garbage is almost to undersell the point.
Walker averaged 18.9 points per 36 minutes in Boston and 17.9 for his career. Just imagine if he could actually shoot, he might’ve put up 30 points a game.
He was a competent rebounder (right around 8 per 36 minutes) but did not stand out among power forwards in that stat. He was average. In fact, he was a rotten defender, often gambling for steals and giving up easy buckets, which reflects both in his counting stats (1.2 SPG for his career) and his advanced stats (steaming hot crap.)
The Advanced Stats
You know that All-Star season in 2003 I mentioned a bit ago? When he shot 38.8 percent?
Only in the darkest of the Dark Ages could a guy be named an All-Star while posting negative Offensive Win Shares. Walker was at minus-1.6, a perfect microcosm of just how many games he shot the Celtics out of, like the plodding dinosaur that would evolve into the likes of Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson.
For his career, a guy who was ostensibly a volume scorer had just 5.7 OWS and an overall WS/48 of just .058.
And this was a guy who was a decent rebounder who got enough steals that he should’ve been able to take advantage of Win Shares’ tendency to overvalue big men.
Instead, he was a marginal rotation player who still managed to lead the league in minutes in 2001-02.
That ’03 season, the pinnacle of his inefficiency that made him into a punchline today? He posted .039 WS/48 and made the All-Star team.
In the 3-point era, .039 WS/48 is the seventh-worst total by a player in the All-Star Game, and the six seasons that were worse?
Oh, and another of Walker’s All-Star seasons, his second year in the league in 1998, he led the league in turnovers. Yeeeeeah…you see where this is going.
Anyone who wants to ask the question of whether Antoine Walker was good already knows the answer.
But we do science on this show, testing the myth and not just taking a man’s reputation as gospel truth no matter how many times it’s repeated.
But when the statistics confirm the eye test? When they do so decisively and not only show that Walker wasn’t good, but even when people thought he was and put him in the All-Star Game, he still sucked?
Was Antoine Walker good? No. Busted, busted, BUSTED.
NEXT: Steve Nash.
(Pace and Space would like to thank Dave Kovaleski, Will Beckman, and Josh McSwain for contributing ideas and inspiration for this series. Get your name in the acknowledgments by going to Twitter and suggesting a name @RealFoxD. Thanks for reading!)