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Antione Walker: Next Scoring Champ?

January 28, 1999

WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) _ Now that Michael Jordan is gone, somebody has to lead the NBA in scoring.

Why not Antoine Walker?

``Me?″ he said. ``I don’t know. It’s hard to say because you never know what your role’s going to be on this team. We’ve got a lot of guys who can score.″

None of the other Boston Celtics has done it as well as Walker.

He was 31st in the NBA in scoring with a 17.5 point average as a rookie, then jumped to fifth last season at 22.4. Jordan won the scoring title in the last 10 years he played in the NBA, interrupted only by a stint in minor-league baseball.

His retirement leaves the race wide open. In addition to Jordan, only Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone and Mitch Richmond outscored Walker last season. And now the Celtics have added shooting coach Andy Enfield to help Walker, a 64 percent free-throw shooter, and his teammates.

``I want to get better at free throws if I plan on having the ball late in the game when you get fouled,″ Walker said. ``That’s not something that I’m overly concerned about because I know I’m capable of doing that with a little concentration, a little work.″

Last season, the 6-foot-9 Walker averaged 20.8 shots per game but hit only 42.3 percent of them. Still, he led the team in scoring in 55 games. Rookie Ron Mercer was second, leading 14 times.

But Mercer should improve on his 15.3-point average, and rookie Paul Pierce provides added offensive punch. And point guard Kenny Anderson, limited by injury to 16 games last season with Boston after being traded by Toronto, is adept at distributing the ball to the open man.

``He’s trying to get everyone involved,″ guard Dana Barros said of Anderson. ``I think if Antoine was on a team that didn’t have as much scoring and wasn’t playing the type of style that we were, maybe he could lead the league. But I don’t think he will now.″

Pierce, the highly-touted rookie from Kansas, already is impressed with Walker.

``He can lead this league in almost every offensive category,″ Pierce said. ``He’s that good a talent.″

Walker tied for seventh in the NBA last season with 10.2 rebounds per game. For the Celtics, he was first in steals and second in assists and blocks.

The Celtics prefer a running style that should improve now that they have Anderson for a full season. That means they’re not likely to call a lot of plays for Walker or isolate him on a defender.

It’s fine with general manager Chris Wallace if Walker doesn’t replace Jordan as the NBA’s leading scorer, but he wouldn’t mind if Walker emulated other parts of Jordan’s game.

``He has that capability″ to be the top scorer, Wallace said. ``I think we would prefer to have an Antoine Walker that’s ranked very high in a number of statistical categories ... and we’re winning. We’re more concerned about that than leading the league in scoring.″

That philosophy has worked for the Celtics throughout their glorious history. No team has won more than their 16 NBA titles. Yet they’ve never had a league scoring leader. Not Bob Cousy. Not Bill Russell. Not John Havlicek. Not Larry Bird.

And maybe not Walker even if Jordan no longer has a lock on the title.

``I hate to prejudge my statistics right now,″ Walker said. ``If the opportunity is there for me to score, I think I can score with the best of them. But I think my job this year and from now on with the Celtics is to fit in wherever I can.″

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