DAR Sports Underrated Series: Antoine Walker
By Jeff Axel
You hear about certain players who were ahead of their time and who would thrive in the current era of more spacing. An underrated player who fits that mold is the 6’9 inside and out threat Antoine Walker. Walker was the 6th pick in arguably the greatest draft of all-time, the 1996 NBA draft and carved out a solid career averaging 17.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG and 3.5 APG in 11 seasons. The 3 time All-Star had an above average post game, could step out and shoot the 3 pointer, rebound at a high level and had good court vision, leading his team in assists multiple seasons. Walker was top 20 in the NBA in scoring 4 seasons in his career and was top 20 in the NBA in rebounds his first 6 seasons. He made the All Rookie team averaging 17.5 PPG and 9 RPG while notching 2 triple doubles that season. Despite his team having a losing record, he showed promise as a franchise player. Walker followed up that season with his first All Star appearance in 1997-98, averaging 22 PPG and 10.2 RPG. Walker was establishing himself as one of the best power forwards in the Eastern Conference and he would continue the trend with a solid year the following season averaging 19 and 9 during the lockout shortened season. The addition of Paul Pierce to the Celtics helped them to become one of the better duos in the league at the time. 1999-2000 would be the final year of 4 straight seasons that Walker lead the team in scoring with 20.5 PPG, but he still kept his rebounding prowess, leading the team with 8 RPG. Walker averaged at least 17 points and 8 rebounds every season from 1996-2003. 2000-2001 was Walker’s best individual season, as he averaged 23.4 PPG, 9 RPG and 5.5 APG on a career high 37% from three, as well as recording 5 triple doubles that season showing off his versatility and ball handling, a skill a lot of power forwards of his era didn’t possess. It was the first season he didn’t lead the team in scoring but he found other ways to contribute and co-exist with Paul Pierce, who averaged 25ppg that season. That season would be the year they came into their own as a duo.
In 2001-2002, which would end up as another All-Star season for Walker, he followed up his career best by averaging 22 PPG, 9 RPG and 5 APG, being a key contributor to the Celtics reaching the playoffs for the first time in 7 years. Walker would shine in the playoffs, averaging 24 PPG, 8 RPG and 4 APG in round 1 against the Sixers. He would then average 19 PPG and 8 RPG against the Pistons in the second round, helping the Celtics reach the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics would come up short in the ECF, as they lost in 6 to the New Jersey Nets but Walker averaged 23 PPG, 10 RPG and 4 APG, closing out a pretty strong 1st playoff run, which included the infamous (at the time an NBA record) 26 point comeback in game 3.
Walker’s final season in Boston in 2002-2003 would see him averaging 20 PPG, 7 RPG, 5 APG but with a slight increase in 3 point attempts and his field goal percentage dropping, it was evident that it might be time to move on and rebuild the Celtics. The Celtics ended up trading Walker to the Dallas Mavericks, where he would have his second act career wise. Walker was solid in Dallas as a secondary scorer, averaging 14 PPG but with Dirk and Antawn Jamison at the forward position, he could never catch a rhythm there. That second act in Dallas would be short-lived as he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks the following season(2004-2005) for 53 games where he averaged 20.4 PPG and 9.4 RPG. The Hawks stint revitalized him some and shockingly he ended up being traded back to the Boston Celtics where he averaged 16 and 8 that season. He ended up helping them get to the playoffs that year before a 1st round loss ended the short-lived Celtics reunion. Walker would then go to the Miami Heat as a free agent in 2005-2006 and played a secondary role as a floor spacing big man on a balanced team while averaging 12 and 5 while shooting 36% from 3. Walker was the 2nd leading scorer on that Heat team in the 2006 NBA Finals averaging 14 PPG, showing he still had something left in the tank. Advanced stats and analytics aren’t huge on Walker’s game especially with the volume of 3 pointers he took but ultimately Walker had a strong career finishing with 15,647 points, 6,891 rebounds, 3,170 assists, along with 1,386 three pointers made and 15 career triple doubles. Considering he did this in the slowest pace era of the NBA, that makes it more impressive.
Some of Walker's best career games include a career high 49 points against the Washington Wizards where he posted up, broke down slower forwards off the dribble, faced up for mid range and hit 3 point shots while grabbing 12 rebounds that night. Walker also has a 19 point, 21 rebound and 5 assist game from his rookie year, a 47 point and 13 assist game on efficient shooting from three (9-14 3PT) game against the Kings in 2002. He would also tally a 42 point, 9 rebound and 9 assist game against the Knicks in 2001 and a spectacular 39 points and 11 rebounds against the Nets in 2000. If Walker got a chance to display more of his versatility in a faster paced game with more spacing, we could’ve seen him reach another level. Ultimately, Antoine Walker is one of the most underrated players of the late 90’s and 2000’s and we remember his contributions and the classic shimmy after those big plays.