A tale of two guards: Walker and Boynton must lead Florida Gators by example

By Adam Silverstein
October 13, 2011

For the last two seasons, senior point guard Erving Walker and junior shooting guard Kenny Boynton have been the Florida Gators dynamic scorers. The problem is that neither has figured out as of yet how to become a complete player.

Walker’s penchant for turning the ball over and forcing too many shots has taken attention away from his clutch scoring and improved court vision. Boynton is one of the best on-ball defenders in the nation and can shoot lights out at times when he’s finding the bottom of the net, but he does not penetrate enough and can get cold from the perimeter just as quickly as he gets hot.

Florida head coach Billy Donovan challenged Walker to become an assist machine last year. He responded by averaging 3.4 dimes per game, second on the team behind small forward Chandler Parsons. Donovan has again made improving his handling and dishing of the ball Walker’s primary focus. He hopes the most veteran member of his team understands how important these traits are to the Gators’ long-term success.

“Erving and I had a conversation about this. His goal needs to be to try to lead the league in assists,” Donovan said. “With us having more shooting around Erving, and with his speed and quickness, he needs to be a guy that has a great assist-to-turnover ratio. There’s things that all these guys have proven since they’ve been here.

“Erving Walker has proven he can make big shots. He’s proven that he can make the adjustment when Nick [Calathes] left to the point guard position. He’s proved that he can play a lot of minutes and hold up. He’s proven that, even though he’s a small guy, he’s still a very gifted. But now can he prove that he can really take his game as a point guard and take that to a different level to help our team? I really think that’s going to be really important for him.”

To his credit, Walker has taken Donovan’s challenge to heart and hopes to prove to his coach that he, once again, can prove the critics wrong.

[EXPAND Click to expand and read the remainder of this post.]“I embrace it a lot. I look at it as another challenge for myself,” he said. “I have all the trust in the world in Coach Donovan and if he thinks that’s what I need to do, then I agree with him.”

Walker’s 1.42 assist-to-turnover ratio in 2011 is another concern, especially because his 87 miscues were most on the team – not an ideal stat for the primary ball handler. It’s not so much that he makes bad passes that often but rather that, as someone with a diminutive stature, he drives the lane either when it is too crowded or forces shots close to the basket against much bigger opponents.

“As the game gets going up and down the floor, [he has to not be] driving down the lane and getting caught in the air and taking tough shots,” Donovan explained. “Him understanding that if we’ve had five or six trips down the court and Patric Young hasn’t gotten a touch, does he understand what’s going on? Does he understanding if Kenny Boynton’s made three threes in a row? Those are the things he really needs to elevate his game on for our team and for him to make the next step as a player.”

That’s not to say Donovan doesn’t want Walker to shoot. His 14.6 points per game, 41.1 percent shooting from the field and 38.5 percent efficiency from behind the arc led all guards on the team last season.

“There’s always a fine line. Great players always play to whatever is needed in a game. It’s not even about Erving shooting less,” he said. “There was times where Erving stepped up and tried to take over. I don’t want him necessarily shooting less as much as I want him playing off of what the game dictates. We’re going to need him to shoot, to score, to do the things he’s always done. But for us to be collectively better, if he hasn’t taken a shot in eight straight trips down the floor and we’re 7-for-8 from the field, he’s got to recognize that and he’s probably going to have to make a sacrifice scoring the ball.

“I could see Erving Walker, if he’s really playing the position like I’d like to see him play it, I could see in a game he gets eight points, eight assists and one turnover and we shoot a high percentage. And I could see some games where he scores 20 points because we needed that. From game to game it’s always going to change. [It’s] not necessarily I want him to shoot less, but I want him to be able to make all the other guys on the floor better.”

Boynton worked with a shooting specialist before the 2010-11 season, but his numbers were only marginally better than they were after his freshman year. He spent all summer in Gainesville, FL and “shot the ball very well in the preseason,” Donovan said.

“Instead of trying to change it, I have just been getting more repetitions and get used to it.,” Boynton explained. “Basically getting more practice makes perfect, so I have been trying to shoot a lot of it every day.”

Boynton’s coach appreciates the consistency he provides on the court.

“That’s been the thing that’s been so impressive for me as a coach with Kenny Boynton. He has been a guy from his freshman year that I know exactly what I’m getting,” he said. “With regards to him shooting the ball, I always want him to maintain a level of aggressiveness. He’s got a better understanding of shot selection. He is a consistent guy every single day. He gives you great effort. He works really hard. He’s a great kid and he wants to be a good player.”

When it comes to Boynton, even though he was Florida’s second-leading scorer from a year ago (14.2 points per game), what he does on a weekly basis from a defensive perspective is even more impressive considering the competition.

“The one thing that’s really underrated about him is what he can do defensively. He’s a very good defender,” Donovan said. “If you look at all the games that we played from [Jimmer] Fredette to Scotty Hopson to a Brandon Knight, he’s guarded every team’s best player on the perimeter and he’s done a really good job of that.

“I know his reputation coming out of high school was that of a scorer, but part of the reason why I recruited Kenny so hard and wanted him here at Florida was because a lot of times you see a guy that can score the ball like Kenny can but they totally rest on defense and have no interest. That’s the great thing about him. He’s got a great motor on the defensive end. He wants to win. He’s highly competitive, and he’s really been a consistent guy since he’s been here. He’s been a reliable guy that I know is going to come out there and give me everything he has.”

Effort has never been a question for Walker or Boynton. As the Gators’ most experienced and court-tested players, it will be how they can improve their game that will shape Florida’s ability to compete at a high level this season. Each serves as an example to the rest of their teammates, all of whom are being challenged by Donovan to step up and become more reliable players in 2012.[/EXPAND]

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