In his prime, Antoine Walker was a three-time NBA All-Star that averaged 23.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists during his 2000-01 season with the Boston Celtics. That was 11 seasons ago, before the NBA Development League even existed.
Out of the NBA for the past three seasons since a throwaway half-season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Walker is toiling in the NBA D-League with the Idaho Stampede. Believe it or not, he reminds yours truly of a classic country song lyric.
No, I'm not referring to a mulleted Billy Ray Cyrus singing Achy Breaky Heart while mulling what Walker's career might have been remembered for were it not for a few misguided moments. I'm actually referring to a lyric by another former mullet-wearer in Toby Keith, because after watching last night, I'm pretty confident in saying the following:
'Toine ain't as good as he once was, but he's as good once as he ever was.
To see what I mean, let's go to the highlights as narrated by "Above Average"
Mike Sanders Alex Del Barrio!
Alright, so maybe Walker wouldn't be able to match his totals of 26 points and 11 rebounds in 32 minutes if you put him on an NBA roster tomorrow. Hell, he might not be able to match those totals when his Stampede face off against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on Wednesday night in the rematch of last night's game.
The fact remains, however, that Walker still has NBA talents. He can still hit the NBA three-pointer with consistency (5-of-10 from beyond the arc last night despite his shot seeming to be a bit off) and he still sees the court very well for a big man.
Walker's also added just enough old-man-craftiness to his low-post game so that he can be a mismatch for whomever the other team decides to match him up with because of his size and outside-inside game. On defense, well, Walker's usually a step slow -- but that's been the case since he came out of Kentucky.
All of that is a long way of saying that I wouldn't necessarily be shocked if a playoff team decided to call-up Walker for the stretch run. He has championship experience (he played over 37 minutes per game with the Miami Heat in the playoffs on the way to their 2006 championship), he seems to have been a positive influence on his formerly floundering Stampede teammate (they're now in the playoff hunt after starting the season 0-7 prior to Walker's arrivial) and he could still provide a Robert-Horry-in-his-twilight-years type of impact on the right team that needs a veteran to help spread the floor.
And really, after showing the humility it must take to sign with the D-League after all of his previous success -- and very public problems -- I think he deserves one more chance. He doesn't have ridiculous upside, as they say, but he just might have a bit of NBA upside left in him.