Overall, the Tar Heels were abysmal from beyond the arc last season. We recently previewed rising sophomores Caleb Love and RJ Davis, both of whom came in with relatively lofty shooting expectations. While each had his moments, neither one ultimately finished with desirable efficiency numbers. However, there was one freshman last year that, from the second he stepped on the court, lit it up from downtown: Kerwin Walton.
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There’s no question that Walton was the biggest surprise of the 2020-21 season. He arrived in Chapel Hill as the lowest rated recruit (#133 overall according to 247sports) in a star-studded six-man class that ranked second in the country. With the abundance of talent on the roster, most expected Walton to serve a minuscule role in his first go around. For the first eight games, that was largely the case, as he never played more than 15 minutes.
Walton was inserted into the starting lineup for the Heels’ ninth game of the season against Georgia Tech. From that point on, he never relinquished his role as a starter and recorded at least 21 minutes in every game.
For the season, Walton averaged 8.2 points, 1.8 assists, and 1.7 rebounds while shooting 44.4% from the field, 42.0% from the three point line, and 84.0% from the free throw line. That three point percentage was easily the best on the team (minimum 10 attempts) as Andrew Platek was the next closest at 32.7%. While Walton’s shooting prowess was certainly the main reason for his uptick in minutes, it’s not the only strength of his game.
As the season progressed and Walton got more comfortable playing at the college level, he found other ways to beat opposing defenses. Because of his outside shooting and the lack of other deep threats on the roster, he became a focal point of scouting reports. As a result, defenders tended to press up on him to try and force him to put the ball on the floor. Although he’s not extraordinarily quick or athletic, Walton got very crafty with his pump fakes and one or two-dribble mid-range pull up jumpers that were seemingly automatic. In the later stages of the season, he even became more aggressive driving to the basket, using his body and positioning to finish over taller defenders. Walton finished with a 52.5% mark on two point attempts.
Perhaps more than anything, Walton is a high IQ ball player. He understands his strengths and weaknesses, when to shoot and when to attack, and he’s a guy you can count on to make the right play. Thus, it’s no surprise that his 1.2 turnovers ranked first among players averaging at least 19 minutes. It’s not unreasonable to assume his decision-making will only improve in year two.
Defensively, Walton is still somewhat of a work-in-progress, but he did manage to make noticeable strides throughout the season. His lateral quickness isn’t going to astound anyone and he’s not going to force a ton of turnovers. Again, though, he uses his basketball smarts to his advantage on this side of the ball. You’ll rarely find Walton out of position nor does he commit dumb fouls. He’s a heady player that, with the right guys around him, can be a strong team defender.
While nobody was happy to hear the news of Hall of Fame Coach Roy Williams’ retirement, the introduction of Hubert Davis, UNC’s all-time leader in three point percentage, as the next head coach could mean big things for Walton. Although the Heels’ frontcourt won’t garner as much attention as it did last season, the change in style could allow Walton an even greener light, if that’s even possible. Davis has been vocal about his desire to focus more on spacing and shooting, and that notion has only been reinforced by his recruiting. With other consistent shooters to presumably take some of the pressure off, Walton could find himself in a thriving role as the team’s top deep threat heading into next season.