Every setback creates an opportunity. For the Texas Tech basketball team, losing starting forward Devan Cambridge to a season-ending knee injury on December 6 was certainly unfortunate but, at the same time, it opened the door for Kerwin Walton to become the type of player that Red Raider fans have been waiting for him to be.
It is no conicidence that since the night Cambridge was injured, Walton has played the best basketball of his college career. And it hasn't been just about his ability to shoot the 3-ball.
Walton has been the an all-around player for Texas Tech as of late
Of course, that will always be Walton's calling card because he is an elite 3-point sniper. In fact, over the last three games, he's gone 12-16 (75%) from beyond the arc, and for the year, he's shooting at a 62.5% clip from deep.
However, during that time, he's also been a better all-around player. That's important given how much Tech misses with the versatile Cambridge sidelined.
For instance, over the last three games, Walton is averaging 3.7 rebounds per game. While that number is average at best, it is a huge step up for a player who previously only thought about rebounding if a missed shot landed right at his feet.
In fact, in each of the last three games, he's had at least three rebounds. All of last season, he managed that feat only twice. Team rebounding is critical for Tech because of the overall lack of size on the roster, a flaw only exacerbated by Cambridge's injury. In other words, Tech can't afford to just rely on a handful of players to work the boards but rather, the entire roster must be dedicated to the practice and it must be part of each player's DNA.
Another area where Walton has made his presence known recently has been regarding distributing the basketball. Since December 6th, he's averaged 2.8 assists per game, over two more than his career average.
That is indicative of a player who is more fully engaged on the offensive end of the floor. Previously, Walton has been satisfied with simply standing around the 3-point line and waiting for an opportunity to just hoist a long-range shot. It was as if he wanted to just play a game of "around the world".
Lately, though, he's shown that he can actually put the ball on the floor and create something for a teammate. Of course, that's imperative of a player who is going to get starter minutes.
Most notable, though, has been Walton's willingness to play defense. After all, that was what kept him on the bench last season and what he had to prove to Grant McCasland that he was willing to do this year.
Texas Tech is getting solid defense out of Walton
Cambridge was arguably Tech's best overall defender because he could guard every spot on the court. Walton won't be that type of defender. He's smaller and less athletic than Cambridge and playing defense doesn't come as naturally to him as it does for Cambridge.
That doesn't mean that he can't be an asset on the defensive end of the floor, though. After all, 90% of playing defense is about effort and willingness.
Those traits were missing from Walton's game last year when Tech didn't have the ball. When it came to defensive win shares (an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense), Walton was tied with K.J. Allen for the lowest on the 2022-23 Red Raider roster at 0.3. For context, know that the team leader was at 1.6 wins shares for the season.
However, this season, Walton is 7th on the team in defensive win shares. At already 0.2 win shares contributed through eight games, he's on the verge of matching what he did all of last year.
Walton even had a three-block game on Saturday in Tech's dominant win over Vandy. While no one expects that to be a new part of his game on a nightly basis, it is indicative of the fact that he's putting forth significant effort on defense and that has to make his head coach sleep better at night.
This offseason, many were surprised that Walton stuck with Texas Tech given that he played only the 8th-most minutes on the team last season and given that the coaching staff that brought him to Lubbock was replaced. Now, it is hard to imagine where Tech would be without the former North Carolina transfer still on the roster.
Averaging 17.0 points per game in the last three contests, he's taken over the scoring role that Cambridge left vacant and then some. But more importantly, he's contributing to winning efforts in a number of ways including on defense. Walton has become a well-rounded player who wants to play a complete game and he's earned the trust of his head coach and the fan base as a result.
Now, the next step in his evolution will be to keep those standards up over the long haul. If he does, the Red Raiders could find themselves dancing come March despite being without Cambridge.