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Michigan State Men’s Basketball 2021-2022 Season Review: Tyson Walker

The transfer point guard went through an adjustment period, but clearly showed he could do some big things for the Spartans in the future.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round Greenville - Michigan St vs Duke
Michigan State would love to see more like that from Tyson Walker.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Only Colors continues to look back at the 2021-2022 men’s basketball season. We will examine how each Spartan performed individually during the most recent basketball season, where he is at this point in his MSU career and what we might be able to expect during the 2022-2023 season.

Tyson Walker went through some expected struggles during his first Big Ten season, but the Northeastern transfer clearly found his footing late in the year.

The numbers

36 games (28 starts), 22.6 minutes, 8.2 points, 1.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 42.7% fields goals, 47.3% three pointers, 81.0% free throws

The development

It’s hard to really quantify how Walker has developed from the year before because he was in a totally different situation at Northeastern before transferring to Michigan State. He was the clear cut go-to-guy and by far the most prolific scorer for the Huskies, but at Michigan State, he was used much more like a traditional point guard out of the gate.

He took way less shots in a Spartan uniform (6.8 compared to 14.6 during his sophomore season at Northeastern) and overall had to adjust to the size and strength of Big Ten opponents. While he also showed the defensive ability that made him a Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player Of The Year in 2021, he clearly wasn’t allowed to freelance as much since, for example, his steal numbers went way down from 2.4 to 0.9.

Overall performance

Just like for his fellow point guard A.J. Hoggard, Walker’s season was littered with ups and downs. In the earlier part of the year, it showed how tough adjusting to a new level of play can be, especially considering how he had to learn on the fly to be a Tom Izzo point guard. He actually was Izzo’s first transfer point guard ever, complicating things on both ends. Even the great ones like Cassius Winston took their time of really getting a grasp for what the Hall Of Fame coach wants and demands out of his floor general, and those players came directly out of high school without learning a completely different college system first.

Now, most of Walker’s struggles throughout the year can be considered of the mental variety. After being a scoring playmaker at Northeastern, Walker wasn’t sure at MSU when to look for his own shot or when to create something for his teammates in the early going. His reaction was to mostly to defer, even if it was a detriment to the entire offense and bogged things down quite a bit. At times the lack of aggression from Walker almost became infuriating. The most frustrating part for the fans and for the coaching staff was that overall, it never really looked like the junior had problems getting his shot off even against better competition.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round Greenville - Michigan St vs Duke
Tyson Walker is very confident finishing with his left hand.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Now, that wasn’t necessarily true for his finishing inside from the get-go, as his bad two-point shooting percentage shows (40.7 percent for the year). Considering that he improved it every month of the season, though (he was at almost 50 percent in March), a positive development in that area was clearly visible. It still remains fairly unimpressive compared to Walker’s three-point shooting, which was just spectacular at 47.3 percent for the season.

Walker proved early that he is a natural playmaker, yet just like Hoggard, had issues with turnovers throughout the entire year. It was a direct result from not being sure how to fit in, not knowing how to pace himself in the Spartans’ transition game, and due to facing bigger, better and more physical competition. It also got much better, though, as the season went along, just like his scoring did. In February and March, Walker played quite a bit more off the ball and only committed 18 turnovers in 16 games.

Walker had his best game of the year with a 26-point explosion versus Illinois, and interestingly performed a lot better coming off the bench (53.2 percent from the field) than he did as a starter. He had numerous double-digit assist games, yet also put up some no shows (like a one-point performance versus Wisconsin in February).

He had the game-winning three-pointer in an upset victory against Purdue. Additionally, Walker’s 13 points and five assists against Duke in the NCAA Tournament — while playing on a bum ankle — showed plenty of his toughness and more. Even against a star-studded opponent like the Blue Devils, Walker, at times, looked like the best players on the floor and that says quite a lot about his potential going forward.

State of his game

Walker, even at his smaller size, is probably one of the most complete players the Spartans have on the roster right now. His handles are natural, he has a great feel for the point guard position and he can create his own shot almost at will. No matter if he uses a quick first step, a change of pace or some dribbling combination, Walker can get by his defender constantly and collapse the defense all by himself.

As a jump-shooter, his form looks effortless, and even if his motion can be a bit slow from time to time, his great handles allow him to size up different defenders and get up a step-back jumper even with someone bigger guarding him. Toward the end of the year, Walker made a consistent effort to take more midrange jumpers, which is definitely something that could help him going forward. His finishing inside has gotten a lot better lately, but of course his diminutive size hurts him a bit when he drives against the big boys.

Walker has a strong left hand, and actually loves to drive to that side — especially when he is attacking from the left wing. If he continues to work on his midrange game and maybe develops a floater over the course of the summer, it would go a long way to helping him become a more lethal scorer. His deep game is there and it can set up so many other things for him and the entire team. Size and strength would still remain an issue, and there are question marks about if he can deliver with a bigger workload, or if getting a higher usage rate wouldn’t cut more into his efficiency.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament- Maryland vs Michigan State
Could Tyson Walker be Tom Izzo’s next great floor general?
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

As a defender, Walker showed plenty of promise, but due to his smaller size, he struggled here or there against bigger opponents. While not being as prolific of a defender as he was in the CAA, he never became a mismatch or overwhelmed by his opponents, even if he had a tendency to gamble for steals from time to time.

Outlook for 2022-2023

Walker proved during his first season at Michigan State that he can play at the Big Ten level and now it is time for him to show that he can be a true go-to-guy for the Spartans. With the current roster makeup, there just aren’t many other guys to turn to, and considering how talented, competitive and naturally gifted Walker is, he just seems like someone who can put the team on his back.

While turnovers were an issue for him at the beginning of the year, the far bigger problem was that he basically passed up wide open shots way to often during the earlier part of the season. As Walker showed later on, he is just way too dangerous as a scorer for that to occur and the Spartans need him to be aggressive with not many other natural scoring options out there. Walker, unlike many others, can create his own shot and this is something he has to do much more.

Izzo will most likely increase Walker’s minutes a little next season and he should get quite a bit of run in two-point guard lineups together with Hoggard. He, and perhaps even incoming freshman Tre Holloman, are big enough to handle the opposing two-guard in most cases, and that allows Walker to chase his shot a bit more playing off the ball on offense. Completely turning him away from the point guard position would be a mistake, though, because he is such a natural ball-handler and playmaker.

Walker got visibly more comfortable as the year went along, he got a lot more demonstrative (flexing after made baskets, celebrating made three-pointers with the crowd, etc.) and just seemed to enjoy himself a lot more with more experience under his belt. MSU should hope that this development continues and that Walker is ready for a leading role in 2022-2023.

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