The Only Colors continues its look at the 2021-2022 men’s basketball season. We’ll look at how each Spartan individually performed during their last basketball season, where they are at this point in their MSU career and what we may be able to expect during the 2022-2023 season.
Tyson Walker had some predictable difficulties during his first season in the Big Ten, but the move to the Northeast found his footing visibly late in the year.
36 games (28 starts), 22.6 minutes, 8.2 points, 1.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 42.7% field goals, 47.3% three pointers, 81.0% free throws
It’s really hard to say how Walker evolved from the year before because he was in a completely different situation at Northeastern University before moving to Michigan State. He was the most visible and most prolific scorer of the Husky family, but in Michigan, he was used largely as a traditional point guard out of the gate.
He took fewer shots in spartan outfit (6.8 compared to 14.6 during Northeastern’s sophomore season) and generally had to adapt to the size and strength of Big Ten opponents. While he also demonstrated his defensive ability that made him the best defensive player in the Colonial Athletics Association in 2021, it is clear that he was not allowed to do independent work so much as he dropped, for example, his steal numbers from 2.4 to 0.9.
Just like his fellow points guard AJ Hoggard, Walker’s season has been full of ups and downs. In the early part of the year, he showed how difficult it was to adapt to a new level of play, especially given how he had to learn on the fly to be Tom Izu point guard. He was in fact Izzo’s first ever transmission point guard, complicating matters on both ends. Even greats like Cassius Winston have taken their time to get a feel for what the Hall Of Fame coach wants and demands in general, and these guys walked right out of high school without learning a completely different college system first.
Now, most of Walker’s year-round suffering can be considered of the mental kind. After becoming a playmaker at Northeastern, Walker wasn’t sure at MSU when to look for his own shot or when to make something for his teammates early on. His reaction was mostly to defer, even if it hurt the whole offense and disrupted things a bit. At times, the lack of aggression from Walker became infuriating. The most frustrating part for the fans and the technical staff was that overall, the youngster didn’t seem to have problems with his shot even in the face of better competition.
Now, that wasn’t necessarily true for him to finish on the inside right from the start, as his poor two-point shooting percentage (40.7 percent for the year) shows. Given that he’s been improving every month of the season, though (he was at nearly 50 percent in March), there was a positive development on the field that was clearly visible. It’s still a bit unimpressive compared to Walker’s three-point shot, which has been a staggering 47.3 percent for the season.
Walker established early on that he was a natural playmaker, yet just like Hoggard, he had problems with turnovers over the course of the entire year. It was a direct result of not being sure how to fit in, not knowing how to trap himself in the Spartans transition game, and due to facing bigger, better and more physical competition. It has also improved a lot, as the season has gone by, just as it has with his scoring. In February and March, Walker played a little more off the ball and only scored 18 spins in 16 games.
Walker had his best game of the year with a 26-point blast against Illinois, and he performed much better off the bench (53.2 percent of the field) than he did as a rookie. He had several double-digit assist games, but he also did some performances (like a one-point performance against Wisconsin in February).
He had the game-winning Triple Pointer in a surprise victory over Bordeaux. In addition, Walker’s 13 points and five assists against Duke in the NCAA Championship – while playing on the ankle – showed a lot of his power and more. Even against a star-studded opponent like the Blue Devils, Walker has, at times, looked like the best players on earth and this says a lot about his potential going forward.
his game status
Walker, even at his smaller size, is probably one of the most complete Spartans on the roster right now. His handles are natural, he has a great sense of guard posture and can create his own shot as he pleases. Regardless of whether he uses a quick first move, a change of pace or a combination of dribbling, Walker can consistently outrun his defender and eliminate the defense by himself.
As a jumper, his form seems effortless, and even if his movement is a little slow from time to time, his cool handles allow him to scale different defenders and stand up in a backwards jump even with a larger person guarding him. Towards the end of the year, Walker made a consistent effort to take on more mid-range jumpers, which is definitely something he could help moving forward. His inside finish has improved a lot lately, but of course his small size hurts him a bit when he’s driving against the big boys.
Walker has a strong left hand, and in fact loves to drive to that side – especially when he’s attacking from the left wing. If he continues to work on his mid-range game and perhaps develops a float over the course of the summer, it will go a long way to helping him become a more lethal scorer. His deep game is there and he can prepare many other things for him and the whole team. Size and power will continue to be an issue, and there are question marks over whether it can achieve a greater workload, or whether having a higher utilization rate will not reduce its efficiency.
As a defender, Walker showed a lot of promise, but due to his small size, he struggled here or there against bigger opponents. Although he was not as prolific as he was in CAA, he never became incompatible or overwhelmed by his opponents, even if he had a tendency to gamble on thefts from time to time.
Walker proved during his first season at Michigan State that he can play at the Big Ten level and now it’s time for him to show that he can be a real man for the Spartans. With the makeup of the current roster, there aren’t a lot of other players to turn to, and given how talented, competitive and naturally talented Walker is, he looks like someone who could put the team on his back.
While transitions were a problem for him at the start of the year, a much bigger problem was that he skipped the wide open picks way too often during the early part of the season. As Walker later showed, he’s too dangerous as a scorer for this to happen and the Spartans need to be aggressive with not many other natural scoring options out there. Walker, unlike many others, can make his own shot and that’s something he has to do so much more than that.
Izzo is likely to increase Walker’s minutes a bit next season, and should get a good deal of running into his two-point guard formations with Hoggard. He, and perhaps even upcoming rookie Trey Holloman, is big enough to handle the two opposing goalkeepers in most cases, and this allows Walker to chase his shot a bit more playing the ball on attack. However, removing him completely from the base position would be a mistake, as he is a footballer and playmaker by nature.
Walker became distinctly more comfortable as the year went on, became more conspicuous (flexible after making baskets, celebrating triple tokens with the crowd, etc.) MSU should hope this development continues and Walker is ready to play a leading role in 2022-2023.