It's one thing to do be a factor on occasion. However, doing it on a nightly basis is what separates average players from great ones. That's a level that Kerwin Walton is still striving to reach as consistency has been a struggle for the Texas Tech basketball team's unlikely starter.
Remember, Walton was just a slightly-used reserve until forward Devan Cambridge was lost for the year with a knee injury in early December. However, once he was insterted into the starting lineup, he took off.
Including the game in which Cambridge went down, Walton had double digit scoring efforts in his first three games as a starter (or playing starter's minutes). During that time, he averaged 17 points per game and showed an ability to impact games that he had not shown during his Red Raider tenure.
In fact, over the final six non-conference games of this season, Walton averaged 13 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game. During that span, he also shot 58.6% from 3-point range while averaging 4.8 attempts per game from beyond the arc.
Texas Tech needs consistency from Walton in Big 12 play
Naturally, Walton has seen his number dip in conference play. That was somewhat expected given that this is the toughest league in America.
Through six Big 12 contests, he's averaging 8.7 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. Also, his 3-point field goal percentage is now down to a somewhat human 48%.
The problem is that Walton isn't being as reliable as he initially was when his minutes increased. In fact, there are many times when he hasn't made much of an impact at all.
For instance, he was held without a point in 28 minutes of action against Texas in the conference opener. What's more, that day, he managed to hoist only two shot attempts.
Then, after a 16-point game against Oklahoma State, he had only five points on 2-7 shooting against Kansas State. Now, he did follow that up with an 18-point outburst against Houston but in his last two games, he's scored only six and seven points respectively.
Against Oklahoma, the former North Carolina transfer even fouled out despite playing only 18 minutes. It is fair to suggest that the officiating in that game was rather uneven leading to some of Walton's foul troubles, but still, a veteran player with 105 career games on his resume should know how to manage situations such as that.
When Walton went out on Saturday in Norman, Chance McMillan stepped in and delivered a career-high 27 points to help save the day. However, Walton's absence left Tech with essentially no depth off the bench given that the unreliable Lamar Washington was the only player in the regular rotation that Tech could turn to for minutes at the guard spot.
That's why Walton's presence is about more than scoring. Even if the shots are tough to come by or aren't falling in general, the Red Raiders need Walton's steadying presence and calm demeanor on the court.
After all, he rarely turns the ball over averaging just 0.2 per game this year. What's more, his 75% shooting at the free-throw line is a great luxury to have in tight games.
Also, Walton has turned himself into a serviceable defender. His long wingspan and his height allow him to guard multiple spots on the floor and this year, he's putting forth the type of effort on that end of the court that we didn't see from him a season ago.
Fortunately, the contributions of players such as McMillan, Pop Isaacs, and Joe Toussaint have been rather steady thus allowing Tech to survive the ups and downs of Walton. But if he could ever become a consistent threat for the Red Raiders, this team could take its game to an entirely different level and truly be a threat to win the conference and make some serious noise in March.