Walker struggled with shot after Heat called him up from D-League
After injuries and trades had significantly impacted the Miami Heat’s roster, the team was in dire need of reinforcements after the midway point of the season.
Enter Henry Walker, the player formerly known as "Bill" in his prior NBA stints with the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks, who proceeded to make an immediate impact upon signing his first 10-day contract on Feb. 21 by scoring in double-figures in his first four games. By the time the team locked him up for the rest of the season on March 13, Walker was averaging 8.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 27.4 minutes in his first 10 games with five starts under his belt.
After a two-year absence from the NBA, Walker was eager to prove he belonged in the league and during his time away had been working on his game with the Heat’s NBA Development League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Walker was able to quickly integrate himself into a patchwork rotation in part due to his familiarity with the Heat system.
"I view him as one of the young guys," said head coach Erik Spoelstra at the conclusion of the team’s exit interviews. "We hang our hat as an organization on player development, and that department now can extend in so many different areas and ranges.
"Henry Walker’s development in our system really is two years in the making. Last year in the D-League playing for us and going through ups and downs and re-committing himself in the offseason to get into better condition and to lose weight, and then spend another year really as our most consistent and productive player there. Because of all the things that happened this year, it was an easy call-up when everybody unanimously suggested that he would be the guy to take."
It wasn’t an entirely smooth transition however, as Walker struggled with an inconsistent jumper throughout his 24 games with the Heat and shot a career-worst 34.5 percent from the field. But considering he was thrust into the rotation alongside former college teammate Michael Beasley and played big minutes without the benefit of training camp or precious few team practices, Walker’s overall production on both ends of the court while showing an abundance of effort and grit was commendable.
"I love seeing guys like Henry, like Tyler (Johnson), that show resilience and character when doors are being shut on them," said Spoelstra. "Everybody can have it happen when it’s easy for you, but what are you made of and what’s your competitive character like when you keep on trying to make it and the doors keep on closing. Are you going to show the fortitude to keep on going and he did. When we needed important minutes down the stretch the last six weeks, he was able to step in and really help us."
WHAT HE DID RIGHT
Fitting in quickly with the Heat’s culture, Walker brought instant energy on both ends of the floor and was a boost to his team immediately upon joining the team during their push to make the playoffs.
"Just staying ready, getting a lot of shots up, working on my game and just trying to take advantage of the opportunities I had," said Walker of his hot start. "When I get in there, I just try not to mess up too bad and stuff like that. I definitely didn’t come in here and expect to be put in the lineup or anything like that, it was nothing like that. I was just blessed to have the opportunity."
In addition his offensive skills, Walker fit right in on defense and ended up finishing behind only team captain Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers in charges taken with seven despite playing in only 24 games this season with the Heat.
WHERE HE NEEDS TO IMPROVE
More then anything, Walker’s poor shooting only further sank the Heat’s overall field goal shooting woes this season. His end-of-season shooting averages of 34.5 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from 3-point range were a disappointment considering he was shooting 46.8 percent overall and 44.8 percent in 3-pointers through 17 D-League games with the Skyforce prior to getting called up.
This wasn’t as a result of not getting enough consistent touches either. With Chris Bosh gone for the season and Dwyane Wade in desperate need for someone to help with the scoring load, Walker reached double-figures in field goal attempts in eight games (a third of his time with the Heat) where he shot just 31-98 (31.6 percent). He also wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger from long range either, but also shot poorly by going 26-78 (33.3 percent) in eight games where he attempted eight or more 3-pointers.
Walker put in plenty of effort on defense, but that overzealousness got him in trouble at times when he was caught out of position, laying off his defender for too long playing help defense, or gambling for steals. He finished with four or more fouls in nine of his 24 games, and fouled out twice.
Despite having the ball in his hands playing extended minutes near the end of the season, it didn’t translate into many scoring opportunities for his teammates. Walker had just one game in which he finished with more than two assists.
Though his best stretch of the season came early on with the Heat, his most impressive all-around game was in a losing effort against the Atlanta Hawks on March 27 where he scored 12 points on 4-11 shooting from 3-point range and tallied nine rebounds, five assists and four steals in 40 minutes.
Walker may have a shot of sticking around next season but will face heavy competition for one of the last spots since most of the team is still under contract and the front office will be eager to upgrade the roster where they can.
Still, he will have a place on the team during Summer League and likely at training camp where he has earned the right to compete for a spot on the team after giving it his all when his name was called last season.
"I think that with another full offseason — he’s never had a full offseason really working with any team — that that player development can continue," Spoelstra said. "But it’s really a credit to Henry to committing to his craft and it’s showing fortitude to get it done and to get in here regardless of how many people told him ‘no’."