Looking Ahead: Kerwin Walton
THI’s annual series taking a look at the Tar Heels returning for next season continues. It must be noted that North Carolina has signed two prospects for the class of 2021 who will join the program in the summer.
Next season will also be the first for Hubert Davis at the helm of the Tar Heels.
This week, we look at sophomore guard Kerwin Walton:
(Note: Walton’s five best games and what they mean will post later this week)
The list of things Kerwin Walton must improve in his game this offseason is certainly lengthy, but when a player can shoot the ball as well as Walton, it gives them a terrific foundation from which to grow.
Walton can flat out shoot it, as he showed last season. And while he wasn’t particularly strong defensively, didn’t often set up teammates with his passing wizardry, and didn’t sky above the rim to snare missed shots really at all, he did shoot it, and that was big for the Tar Heels.
The 2020-21 Heels were the second worst perimeter shooting UNC team ever, and if not for Walton, they would have been the worst ever statistically. His insertion into the starting lineup at Georgia Tech on Dec. 30 was big moment for him and for the Heels. It gave them a shooter out of the gate in games, helping to loosen how defenses approached the Heels.
For the season, Walton averaged 8.2 points per game while converting 44.4 percent of his field goal attempts, including 42 percent from three-point range. In fact, 58 of Walton’s 79 field goals came from beyond the arc.
Walton scored in double figures 11 times with a high of 19 in a win over Louisville, a game in which he displayed his ability to shoot some off the dribble.
“I know defenses are going to come up on me because I’m a shooter and they’re going to try their hardest to take that away from me,” Walton said that afternoon. “So. I’m just going to take what they give me, and if they’re going to give me the drive, I’m going to go in for a layup and go in strong and just try to finish the basket.”
Plus, he scored 18 in a home victory over Duke. In fact, in two games versus the Blue Devils, Walton was 10-for-13 from the floor, including 8-for-11 from beyond the arc, with 30 points.
He did have one poor stretch, though. Like great hitters in baseball, shooters do occasionally go through slumps. Part of this was that teams changed how they defended Walton, wanting him putting the ball on the floor, because when he was in catch-and-shoot situations, Walton was sometimes deadly.
That period, though, beginning with a loss to Marquette on Feb. 24 and lasting five games through a rout of Notre Dame in the second-round of the ACC Tournament, saw Walton convert just 11 of 38 attempts from beyond the arc. So, in UNC’s other 24 games, he was 47-for-100, which is 47 percent.
Former UNC Coach Roy Williams never minced words when discussing why he targeted Walton as a prospect.
“I've told him this, I recruited him because of his shooting ability,” Williams said after another of Walton’s many excellent shooting games.
Walton averaged 1.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists, though he handed out as many as four in four different games and was credited with only 15 steals. There is plenty he can and likely will do better next season and beyond, including getting better and more consistent on the defensive end.
But there is no substitute for shooting, especially outside shooting, and that is something Walton did really well last season and probably will for the remainder of his Carolina career.
Reason For Optimism
As noted above, Walton can shoot and was at 42 percent for the season, and that is with him being UNC’s only reliable threat. So, imagine what he might do if defenses have to worry about improved accuracy from Caleb Love and RJ Davis and then consider 6-foot-9 Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek launching from outside, and Walton could turn in an outstanding shooting season.
The other parts of his game, including defense, must improve, but he will score some points and stretch defenses when on the court, and that alone will make the Tar Heels an improved club.
It is hard to project Walton as an All-ACC kind of player because his floor game needs a lot of work in just about every area. He will be a scorer, though, and could perfectly complement Manek and improved shooting from the other guards. Walton will play and a lot and be a big factor for the Heels at the very least.