After a forgotten season lost to injury, Andre Walker came back stronger than most fans could have hoped for. The 6'7" forward slid into the starting lineup at power forward and made life easier for his Vanderbilt teammates immediately. Though his impact doesn't shine through his stat sheet, Walker did all the little things on the court that helped this team win games.
Walker was only three games into his sophomore season when he tore his ACL, removing him from the 2008-2009 season. He had shown promise in his freshman year and looked like he could be a solid piece of the Commodore puzzle, but it was still unclear as to whether or not he could handle playing big minutes in the SEC. However, he came through in a big way in 2010, filling out the starting lineup and playing solid ball in almost every aspect of the game.
Thanks to the injury, Walker's stellar season was just his second year of eligibility, putting him in the same class with players like Jeffery Taylor, Brad Tinsley, Lance Goulbourne, Steve Tchiengang, and Festus Ezeli. While he'll probably never be a NBA Draft candidate, he's set to be a valuable piece of the Commodore rotation for the next two years. He's shown solid growth in his time in Nashville, but there's a chance that he could be pushed out of the starting rotation down the line pending the development of Tchiengang (or a positional shift of A.J. Ogilvy) in order to infuse the team with more size.
Observational: Despite being undersized, Walker stepped into the power forward role and fit there comfortably for the whole season. The Flossmoor, IL native filled several roles on the floor, from rebounder to point forward, and was proficient in any position. Though he wasn't the type of player that could control a game for stretches at a time, Walker proved that he made the Commodores a better team offensively when he was on the court.
Walker showcased a high basketball IQ, never settling for bad shots and making the extra pass to set up his teammates. He was the best distributor amongst the big men and often supplemented Jermaine Beal's work from the point guard slot - and was especially useful when Beal was on the bench. His shot was solid out to about 18-20 feet, and he made his jumpers at a solid rate during the season. In fact, Walker almost single-handedly willed the Commodores to a come from behind win over Georgia at home late in the season.
Defensively, his game suffered from his relatively small size, but was still decent. Despite playing at the 4, Walker was one of the team's more consistent rebounders, but had trouble getting rebounds amongst the taller power forwards in the SEC. His game was predicated on positioning and hustle on the glass, which gave him trouble against other hungry big men. Guys like Patrick Patterson and Trey Thompkins, for example, ran all over Walker and Ogilvy in the interior. However, in spite of his height, he was a surprisingly effective shot blocker, especially when called on in help defense.
Statistically Speaking: Walker's season was pretty steady - until the postseason rolled around. With the 'Dores' offense sputtering at the most important time of the season, Walker was called on to take more shots but was unable to translate his efficiency to a greater volume of shots. However, his statistics in the other realms of the game all remained pretty steady - including an uptick in assist-to-turnover ratio, highlighting his ability as the glue guy for the Commodores. Even if his shot isn't falling, Walker consistently found ways to have a positive impact on the game.
Walker's all around play stepped up when conference play rolled around. Despite the jump in competition, Walker's assist and rebounding numbers increased at a rate higher than her previous per-minute averages - but his turnovers did as well. His numbers are exactly what you want to see out of a role player - taking limited shots (and making them at a high rate), being active on the offensive glass, passing well, and asserting himself defensively. Walker did all the little things right for most of the season, and even when his shot wasn't fallen, he played more aggressively on defense and protected the ball better.
Progression, Regression, or Static?: Progression. Walker's game was fluid and dynamic. Whatever the Commodores needed him to do, he did. He showed one of the best basketball IQs on the team (Jermaine Beal may be the only player on the court with a better feel for the game) and seemed to have no ill effects from last year's serious knee injury. Despite his primary position being the one where the 'Dores have their most strength, Walker has carved out his place in the Vanderbilt lineup with effective play at the 4.
Andre Walker isn't the prototypical power forward, and that's why he works so well in Kevin Stallings's system. Unlike other SEC bigs he doesn't have great size, and he can't counter that with dangerous outside shooting, but instead Walker uses a more cerebral and well rounded game to make a positive impact. However, he still has shortcomings on the defensive side of the ball due mostly to his physical limitations, and that has led to trouble at times. Despite this, Walker's impact in 2009-2010 was undeniably positive. The question that remains is just how much the 22 year old forward can improve in his last two years at Vanderbilt. Can he reached the height of his athletic ability - or will there still be room to grow as an upperclassman?