Derrick Walker had a breakout season for the Huskers in 2021-22, and following his success he decided to run it back one more time by taking advantage of his extra season of eligibility.
The 6-foot-9 post was one of the pleasant surprises from an otherwise disappointing season, averaging 9.5 points on 68.3% shooting. He also improved his free-throw percentage dramatically, to 72.6%.
Walker proved to be so efficient with his opportunities that Fred Hoiberg tweaked his offense midseason to feature him more prominently. According to Synergy, Walker scored 1.119 points per possession (PPP), which ranked him in the 96th percentile nationally this past season.
Walker is an undersized five in a conference of giants and doesn’t provide any sort of of stretch ability as nearly all of his shot attempts come inside the lane, making his uncanny efficiency all the more impressive.
That begs the question: how does he do it?
It starts in the post. Including passes, Walker’s post-ups accounted for 31.1% of his possessions and he produced 1.112 PPP (90th percentile). Walker is comfortable operating out of the post from pretty much anywhere on the court, from the block to the lower mid-post to the high post.
He can face up his defender or back him down, and can put the ball on the deck a few times to get to his spots. Walker does a good job of being physical and using his 239-pound frame to carve out space for seals and to create angles to the rim, often utilizing spin moves or the like to bounce off his defender and get a shot off. He’s comfortable shooting with either hand, which makes him unpredictable, and has developed good touch even on shots over the top of the defender. Between shooting fouls and drawing contact in the bonus, Walker found his way to the foul line on 11.1% of his post-ups in addition to shooting 64% from the field.
Walker’s turnover rate is a bit higher than you’d want to see at 20.8% as he occasionally gets a bit too sped up and 80.9% of the time he gets the ball inside the shot’s going up, but he’s actually a pretty good passer in those situations as well as when his teammates get open. He had some slick passes to cutters (teammates were 5-for-5 from the field with one three-point play plus another trip to the foul line) and did a good job finding teammates on the perimeter spotting up as well (teammates shot 5-of-10).
Walker was even more efficient in the pick-and-roll. He served as the roll man on 23.8% of his possessions, scoring 1.375 PPP (93rd percentile) while shooting 76.6% from the field. He developed terrific chemistry with Alonzo Verge Jr. and wad the primary beneficiary of the point guard’s craftiness as a passer.
Walker can set solid screens and also has a good feel for when to slip it instead of making contact. Overall, he has a knack for putting himself in the right spot on the floor and does a good job of keeping his hands up and being ready for a pass at all times. He rolls hard to the rim, and the same skills that make him dangerous in the post (comfort putting the ball on the deck and good touch) also make him a threat as a short-roll target. He drew a foul on 20.3% of his roll man possessions as well.
The same traits that make him dangerous in the pick-and-roll make him a threat as a cutter as well, which makes up another 19% of his possessions. He scored 1.333 PPP (78th percentile) shot 73.8% from the field while playing off his teammates in that way.
Walker sets a bunch of screens, both on and off the ball, on every possession, and occasionally the defense will forget about him and he’ll slip to the rim for an easy bucket, or a teammate will draw a double team off the dribble and he’ll put himself in the right spot to receive the pass.
The last decent-sized chunk of his possessions (8.9%) is made up of put-back attempts. Walker scored 1.333 PPP (85th percentile) and shot 77.8% while getting fouled at a 12.5% rate. He played with a couple of dynamic guards in Verge and Bryce McGowens who put a lot of pressure on the rim, and Walker consistently put himself in a position to clean up their misses when his man slid over to help against the drive. He also did a good job of sticking with it and following up his own misses around the basket.
Those four play types made up nearly 80% of his offense, and he was rated “excellent” by Synergy in three of the categories while earning a “very good” designation in the fourth.
Walker set a school record for field goal percentage, and he did it by marrying a terrific feel for the game with an improved skill level. He’s not particularly flashy. He understands his own limitations and plays to his strengths consistently. He’s not the biggest guy in the league nor is he the most skilled, but he simply gets the job done.
Walker’s decision to return for another season was a big win for Hoiberg and the Huskers. In addition to everything he does on the court, Walker is also an experienced, vocal leader who will help guide an otherwise young roster alongside fellow super seniors Sam Griesel and Emmanuel Bandoumel.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.