When the failures of the Kim Anderson era are brought up, one that stands out is his handling of K.J. Walton. For many Mizzou fans, the lack of playing time for an obviously talented (yet very flawed) Walton was downright criminal.
We can’t say in any definitive way what happened in practice on a daily basis. But Walton struggled to find minutes for large portions of the last two years, on teams with just a combined 18 wins.
#11 K.J. Walton
6'3" 200 lbs
Walton was eighth on the team in minutes at 19.3 this year. For some reason, Anderson never had the trust level with Walton he did with Cullen VanLeer, Jordan Geist, or Frankie Hughes, all of whom claimed more minutes than Walton on the season.
The deficiencies in Walton’s game are obvious — he’s a poor outside shooter and has a very limited mid-range game. There’s a bit of an odd hitch in his jump shot, which prevents him from developing in that regard.
What Walton does to well is get to the rim, and draw contact on his way there. Amazingly, even with Walton’s seeming inability to make shots outside of five feet, and with defenders basically ignoring him when he caught the ball outside the three-point line, he still managed to drive to the rim and draw fouls. His rebound rate went way up, and he drew more fouls, yet just about everything else went down statistically.
Shooting percentages, offensive rating, both down with a small uptick in minutes. Walton’s inability to make shots from range prevent him from taking the big next step offensively, and the one thing he needs to do is reconstruct his shot.
Kim Anderson did not believe in messing with the mechanics of a player’s shot. He’s agnostic about correcting poor mechanics. I am not.
I don’t know what sort of plans are in store for K.J. and his new basketball coach, Cuonzo Martin, but I hope it starts with a reconstruction of that jumper.
If Walton can be even a remotely threatening player on the perimeter, he instantly becomes so much more dangerous on drives to the basket. On top of that, fixing his shot from the outside likely improves his free throw shooting, which, while not terrible, should certainly be better.
So hope in the future that with a new regime and a remade shot can build the kind of K.J. we all sort of thought we’d get when he signed two years ago. He’s one of the most dangerous players off the dribble, but his limitations have hampered his game.
Of the entire sophomore class, K.J. Walton is the player with the seemingly most upside. And of the members of that class, his lack of progression in year two is the most discouraging. Last year, Cullen VanLeer was getting the minutes many thought KJ should be getting, and this year, it was more of the same, though with more players taking those minutes. It feels as if KJ has never gotten in sync, barring that Tulane game, where he put the entire Mizzou team on his back and got the Tigers their first neutral court win of the Kim Anderson era.
The pros of Walton are that he gets to the line more than anyone, and without him Mizzou would probably shoot about 11 free throws a game, which is frightening to imagine. The con seems to be whatever went down in practice that made Kim Anderson and his staff not see fit to give him minutes, AND that jump shot of his that seems to start around his ankles. Quick release is not a KJ Walton staple, and his shot needs to be sped up, because having him develop a jump shot would be a tremendous asset to him and the team.
Of the players currently on the roster, I don’t see anyone benefiting more from a change in culture than KJ. New staff with a different outlook on coaching could be just what the doctor ordered.
Consider me HALF-agnostic about a player's jumper. I do think that by the time you're in college, your fundamentals more or less are what they are. It's hard to change to much about them without slowing your brain down, too.
That said, when there are such clear hitches in one specific area of your game, especially a jump shot ... man, start tweaking it.
I'm not going to pretend that Walton might suddenly become a 45% 3-point shooter given a more fluid stroke, but few players have their strengths and weaknesses so well-defined. K.J. was 72nd in the country in Steal Rate this year and 104th in Fouls Drawn Per 40 Minutes. He's active and physical, and he doesn't commit all that many fouls himself. But when a shot leaves his hand for anything other than a layup, it gets pretty scary.
KJ shot 42% on 2-pointers, 22% on 3s, and 60% from the line; all of those stats were worse than his freshman year (46%, 37%, 69%), which probably suggests he might progress toward the mean next year, especially if defensive attention is focused elsewhere.
Still, he has suffered through some crises in confidence in his time in Columbia, and it doesn't all have to do with playing time. After torching Tulane and Northwestern State, he went 2-for-17 from the field and 1-for-8 from the line over his next three games. And after averaging 10.4 points per game over an eight-game span in conference play, he scored just seven points on 3-for-12 shooting (1-for-6 from the line) in his last five games of the season. When you don't have a reliable form, your ups and downs can be pretty drastic.