2011 NBA Draft: Is Kemba Walker the Next Isiah Thomas?
Isiah Thomas comparisons aren't thrown around lightly in Detroit. In fact, they aren't thrown around at all.
In spite of his trials and tribulations through the years, Thomas is still revered in the Motor City as the leader of the "Bad Boys"—you know, the 1989 and 1990 world champion Detroit Pistons teams?
There were certainly some great players on those Pistons teams, but Thomas was the face of the organization. With that effervescent smile and charm, the Detroit captain was just as likely be seen on Boys and Girls Club commercial as he was committing a flagrant foul on Michael Jordan. This is one of many reasons why he'll always have street cred in Detroit.
It took another great NBA point guard, Chauncey Billups, to guide the Pistons to another championship in 2004. When Billups was abruptly shipped out to Denver for an over-the-hill Allen Iverson, Detroit's latest run of great basketball was over, and the Pistons were, once again, leaderless.
Continue to find out what these two NCAA champions have in common.
1. Superior Prep Careers
Thomas was a top-notch high school point guard from the West Side of Chicago who made a long commute to school every day as a prep. He was a McDonald's All-American who sharpened his game with hours and hours of ballhandling and shooting drills, not to mention tough pickup games around the greater Chicago area. He led St. Joseph's High School to the Illinois State Championship as a junior before going on to star at Indiana under Bobby Knight.
Walker starred at Rice High School in the Bronx, where he played on a talent-rich team full of future college players. He also played AAU ball for The Gauchos, the top team in the country. He was a 5-star point guard and McDonald's All-American coming out of high school, where he signed with University of Connecticut to play for Jim Calhoun.
2. NCAA Champions
Thomas and Walker won their NCAA Championships three decades apart, and played in different eras. That said, they both won the NCAA Tournament MVP, and they both declared for the NBA after winning their championship.
Both the Huskies and Hoosiers revolved around these two playmakers during the championship year of Walker and Thomas. Both were coached by iconic—but very different—coaches in Calhoun and Knight and both left school early for the NBA.
Thomas averaged 16 PPG, 5.8 APG and shot 55 percent from the floor as a sophomore, his last at Indiana. Walker scored 23.4 PPG, 4.3 APG and shot 43 percent from the field as a junior before leaving UConn. It should be noted Thomas played without a three-point line, which affected both his point average (negatively) and his field goal percentage (positively).
It is safe to say that both Thomas and Walker accomplished everything they needed to at the college level.
3. As a Draft Pick
Thomas was the most talented point guard—if not player—in the 1981 NBA Draft. His ballhandling was superior, he was ultra-quick and his court vision was comparable only to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Detractors said Thomas lacked a great range and consistency on his jump shot and even though he was listed at 6'1", he was only 6' with sneakers on. He also had a strong personality—his best and worst quality.
The Pistons were elated to draft Thomas in 1981 with the second pick of the NBA Draft. They also held the 12th pick of that draft, which they used to select high-scoring small forward Kelly Tripucka from Notre Dame.
Detroit was coming off a dismal 21-61 season, and was badly in need of scoring. Many saw Thomas and Tripucka as the cornerstones in which an NBA championship would be built. In a way, they were right.
Tripucka would eventually be traded for Utah's Adrian Dantley, another high-scoring small forward. Dantley, just a few years later, would be traded to Dallas for Mark Aguirre, yet another high-scoring small forward. Dallas had passed on Thomas in the 1981 NBA Draft to draft Aguirre—a childhood friend of Thomas—and by 1989, Detroit had them both.
Walker isn't seen by everyone as a point guard, but nobody denies his obvious talent. He's a talented, effective passer and a solid ballhandler. He's ultra-quick and has a deadly crossover dribble move to the basket. Detractors say Walker lacks a great three-point shot and that he may not be 6' tall. Does all of this sound familiar?
Unless a lot of opinions change between now and the NBA Draft, Walker could easily be there for the Pistons to draft with the (lottery projected) seventh pick in the draft.
The Pistons also own the third pick of the second round—will they package it with a player like Rip Hamilton, Charlie Villanueva or Rodney Stuckey and get a second first-round pick? Who will be Walker's Tripucka in such a scenario? Detroit would most likely draft a big man if they were to get their hands on another first-round pick.
4. As a Pro
Thomas put his stamp on the Pistons from Day 1. He was drafted to a team with no real go-to player, no all-stars, and with no real competition him at point guard. In short, the team was going to live and die by his hand.
Over the first seven years of his career, Thomas put together huge statistical seasons and was either first or second-team All-NBA six times. He put up 22.9 PPG his second year, 13.9 APG his fourth and averaged around 2 SPG over those years. Thomas was also very durable, missing a total of 17 games over those first seven years.
After those seven years of amazing production, Thomas throttled back his game to allow his talented teammates more offensive involvement—the results were back-to-back NBA championships.
When it was all said and done, Thomas made 12-straight NBA All-Star teams, ranks seventh all-time in assists, and was inducted into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000.
Walker's future is unclear, but bright. Much like Thomas, he'll be drafted to a team who needs him to come in and take charge. And also like Thomas, Walker thrives in the spotlight—he's not called Cardiac Kemba for nothing. He is a player who is willing and capable of putting a team on his shoulders when it is struggling, and he elevates the level of play of his teammates.
Time will tell if Walker has the panache or success Thomas did, but his career to this point looks an awful lot like the Detroit legend's. Will the Pistons strike gold in the draft with Kemba Walker?