Walker won't be held back in Atlanta

Updated: August 20, 2004, 10:09 AM ET
By Terry Brown | NBA Insider

What if Tracy McGrady completely concedes to 7-foot-6 Yao Ming, Peja Stojakovic continues to quarrel with Chris Webber, Kobe Bryant's trial somehow drags into another season and Kevin Garnett decides that averaging triple-doubles is more important than setting another career high in points per game?

Then what are we going to do when Antoine Walker leads the league in scoring?

We're talking about the same Antoine Walker who is playing for his third team in three years after his former general manager wanted nothing to do with him and his long-range game anymore and his current one simply wanted to dump salary.

The three-time all-star is now nothing more than a salary-cap placeholder who is in the final year of a $76.6 million deal that will leave him as a free agent and his current team with flexibility. The Atlanta Hawks' plan is to scrap this season in order to accelerate the rebuilding process.

As a result, Walker was acquired not for his ability to shoot, score or tally triple-doubles. He was acquired because he and his cap number disappear in 82 regular-season games whether he scores two points per game or 24. He is one of only 10 current Hawks under contract, and three of those players, including Walker, have their 2005 walking papers.

As it stands now, the Hawks' starting five consists of Tony Delk at point guard, Josh Childress at shooting guard, Al Harrington at small forward, Predrag Drobnjak at center and Walker at power forward.

In other words, they've got a career backup running the offense, a rookie joining him in the backcourt, a disgruntled reserve on one end of the paint, B-role in the middle and Walker at the other end, respectively.

How hard is it going to be for Walker to score 20 points a game? Or 22? Or 24?

Antoine Walker
Forward
Atlanta Hawks
Profile
2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
82 14.0 8.3 4.5 .428 .554

The Hawks may not score a lot and win even less, but in 48 minutes of professional basketball action, there are going to 80 or so possessions where a basketball is hoisted at the bucket.

Last year, the worst-scoring team in the league was the Toronto Raptors at 85.4 points per game. On the season, they took 6,348 shots, which equals about 77.4 shots per game. That's 77.4 shots per game that this year's Hawks are going to try to have to come up with on a nightly basis with a roster that is no where near to being equipped to do so.

Delk is not only playing for his third team in three years, but also his seventh team in nine years. Over his career, he's averaged 8.8 points per game but never more than 12.3. Last year with the Mavericks, he averaged an even 6. But really, how many times can we remind ourselves that Delk once scored 53 points in a single game on Jan. 2, 2001 before we remember that he played a total of five minutes in the 2004 playoffs and wasn't injured.

Four years ago, Delk put up a career-high 923 shots in a season. The year after that, his total was down to 588. A year after that, he was down to 568. A year after that, which would have been last season, he was down to 184 shots in a season.

As mentioned earlier, Delk will most likely be playing alongside rookie Childress. But if the Stanford alum can't quite survive the rigors of starting at shooting guard in the NBA, the Hawks have only got second-year guard Boris Diaw in reserve. The Frenchman averaged 4.5 points per game last year.

At center will be the recently acquired Drobnjak, who is also playing for his third team in four years. The added problem, though, is that he's only been in the league for three years and was just traded for a second-round draft pick. He is a 6-foot-11 center who averaged 3.6 rebounds per game last season and took 379 shots.

At small forward will be the centerpiece of the Hawks' rebuilding effort, Al Harrington, who has had able NBA instructors in Dale Davis, early in his Pacer tenure, and Reggie Miller, late in his time in Indiana. He's put up better than decent numbers recently and come close several seasons to earning Sixthman of the Year honors. The issue was that he no longer wanted to be eligible for the award. He wanted to start and that wasn't going to happen with Ron Artest in Indiana. He requested a trade and got one and took his 909 shots from last season to Atlanta.

Now, let's do the math.

Tony Delk
Guard
Atlanta Hawks
Profile
2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
33 6.0 1.8 0.8 .380 .841

Let's say Delk not doubles, not triples, but quadruples the number of shots he took last year for 736. Let's say the combination of Childress and Diaw match that inflated number with 736 at their position. Let's say that Drobjnak matches his career high of 789 that he totaled as the starting center for the Seattle SuperSonics in 2003. Let's say Harrington doubles his amount from last year for 1,818.

Assuming the Hawks will at least match the 2004 Raptors' total of 6,348 shots, that leaves 2,269 for the rest of the Hawks' roster.

Well, the rest of the Hawks' roster currently consists of Walker and reserves Royal Ivey, high school rookie Josh Smith, Chris Crawford and Jason Collier. Let's say those reserves take another 500 shots. That leaves Walker with 1,769 shots.

And let's be honest, with the assembled talent, head coach Mike Woodson may already be hoping that Walker takes more than that.

Either way, the last time Walker took that many shots, 1,720 in 2001, he averaged 23.4 points per game. But here's where it gets interesting. Walker averaged 23.4 points per game while teammate Paul Pierce averaged 25.3 points per game.

Last year, Walker averaged a career-low 14 point per game but did so after being jammed into a lineup that already featured longtime Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley and Steve Nash while eventual Sixthman of the Year, Antawn Jamison, was also added.

Walker can score. Say what they will about him, he can, will and wants to shoot the ball. In his eight-year career, he has also proved that he can rebound and pass but has become famous for his heaves from long range. He took 645 triples in 2002, 603 the year before that and 582 the year after that. Somewhere along the line, a reporter asked him why he took so many 3-pointers. He replied that he took so many 3-pointers because there weren't any 4-pointers.

Antoine Walker came into camp in 2004 in the best shape of his life. After being traded to the Mavericks from the only franchise he had ever played for and thought he would retire from, he readjusted his perspective and game and boosted his rebound and blocked shot numbers while even playing the center position at times.

It didn't work out.

This year, he begins the season having readjusted his perspective, game and uniform once again. Only this time, he isn't out to rebound, block shots and play a role for a team hoping to win an NBA championship. He is out to score and score and score for a team that hopes to win at least 28 games to match last year's miserable total.

The question, though, isn't whether Walker will score. It's what we are going to do with him when his contract runs out and he's once again at the top of his game.

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