A look at draft prospect Lonnie Walker and his potential fit with the San Antonio Spurs.
With the conclusion of the NBA Finals, the basketball world will now shift its focus to the NBA Draft on June 21. The San Antonio Spurs hold the No. 18 and 49 picks in the draft. One of their options in the first round could be Lonnie Walker, the high-flying, rim-rocking combo guard out of Miami.
Walker only spent one season in Coral Gables, FL, under the tutelage of Jim Larrañaga before deciding to make the leap to the next level. The former McDonald’s All-American posted pedestrian numbers during his lone season with the Hurricanes, averaging 11.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game on just 41.5 percent shooting.
Some of Walker’s offensive woes can be attributed to a torn meniscus he suffered in July 2017 that sidelined the star recruit until the start of the season. Although Walker was cleared to play for UM’s season opener in November, he was not close to being 100 percent healthy until the start of ACC play in early January. As such, Walker’s acclimation to the college game was a rocky one, riddled with highs, lows, exciting upside and potential questions marks regarding his game.
One unique characteristic about Walker’s game is one that can’t be taught: athleticism. Whenever he steps foot onto the court Walker is usually the best athlete within those 94-feet of competition. Walker is just 6’4”, slightly undersized as a two-guard, but he has incredible bounce and plays with his head above the rim. He is an aggressive player who can throw down a thunderous put-back but also has the poise and control to contort his body while airborne to finish a variety of acrobatic plays around the basket.
From an offensive standpoint, Walker came on campus with reputation of being a knock-down shooter. Approximately half of Walker’s field goal attempts came from long distance and he converted at a 34.6 percent clip. While these aren’t spectacular numbers, the low percentages can be partially explained by poor shot selection from a first-year player. Mechanically, Walker’s fundamentals are fluid. He has good elevation and balance when pulling up for a shot, which can make him a deadly scorer in motion.
Walker had flashes of brilliance while he was at Miami and played a hand-full of games where he demonstrated his full arsenal of offensive maneuvers. When everything is clicking for him, Walker can score from anywhere on the floor. However, Walker struggled all season with consistency, alternating between hot and cold streaks throughout the year until he found his rhythm toward the end of conference play.
Further, two of Walker’s biggest areas of improvement heading into the NBA are ball handling and decision-making. Walker is a gifted athlete. However, sometimes he can use that athleticism as a crutch. He is a right-handed player and often attacks exclusively from the right side of the floor when he’s trying to drive into the lane.
At times, Walker looked like he was trying to “out-quick” his defender to the spot. That may have worked in college but that same style of play won’t fly in the NBA. The ability finish with both hands and from both sides of the court will open up a new dimension in his game and allow him to leverage his speed and athleticism more effectively at the next level.
In addition, Walker needs to develop better spatial awareness on the court. While he is an extremely deadly isolation player, Walker can sometimes suffer from tunnel vision, missing wide-open teammates with high-percentage looks while he tries to drive through 2-3 defenders in the paint. During his freshman campaign, Walker also fell prey to the trap of complacency, taking unnecessary and low-percentage shots instead of playing with patience and his head on a swivel.
On the flip side, Walker can make a huge impact on a team with his defense. Despite only being 6’4”, Walker had one of the longest wingspans, 6’ 10.25”, of all backcourt players at the NBA Combine. Because of his speed and length, Walker projects as a 3-and-D player. He can be a defensive nightmare for smaller point guards but he also has the versatility to guard 2’s and some smaller 3’s.
His wingspan and active hands make him a natural disruptor on defense. Walker averaged 1.4 steals and .7 blocks per 40 minutes. Further, his footwork and length make him a tough on-ball defender and he’s effective at forcing opponents into taking contested shots. His speed and strength also allow him to navigate through ball screens while staying attached to his player’s hip to prevent easy looks.
Walker’s game has the potential to be a hybrid between C.J. McCollum and Danny Green. Once Walker stabilizes his outside shot, he has the athleticism and defensive prowess to garner NBA all-defensive honors in the future. With the proper development, Walker can transform into a lock-down defender. His potential was present while at Miami but playing alongside other Spurs such as Kawhi Leonard, Dejounte Murray and Green will show Walker how he has to play to become a more engaged defender on a nightly basis.
If Green were to opt out of his player option and sign with another team during this offseason, Walker could be a natural replacement to fill that same role Green held. A backcourt with Murray and Walker could be intriguing. Both players are scrappy defenders and love to push the pace in transition, which could open up a new wrinkle in the Spurs’ offense that’s traditionally rooted in slow, methodical ball movement.
It’s difficult to project where Walker will land in the draft. Scouts love his potential but Walker put up less than stellar numbers during his freshman season, in comparison to other prospects who are projected to go in the same range. Some believe he could be a lottery-pick but others posit that he may fall into the late teens.
Because of his athleticism and potential on both sides of the ball, the chances of Walker slipping all the way to 18 for the Spurs are slim. Could the Spurs consider moving up a few spots to snag Walker? Perhaps, but reaching for players in the draft has never really been the Spurs’ modus operandi in the past.