San Antonio Spurs: Three implications of the Lonnie Walker pick
By Rob Wolkenbrod
What will the Lonnie Walker selection mean for the San Antonio Spurs, immediately and down the line?
The San Antonio Spurs made Lonnie Walker IV the No. 18 pick of the 2018 NBA Draft, a shooting guard from Miami. He had a first-round projection, but fell out of the lottery, with Mikal Bridges, Jerome Robinson, Troy Brown, Zhaire Smith and Donte DiVincenzo as the two guards that were picked beforehand.
Walker joins a Spurs team that won 47 games in 2017-18, most of which happened without Kawhi Leonard, something that is, again, likely for the 2018-19 season. How much of an impact will Walker make on this roster, though? Along with that, what does this pick actually mean for the rest of the group in place?
There’s plenty to like about Walker, so let’s look at some immediate and long term implications of his selection for the Spurs.
3. Competition at shooting guard for Derrick White
Kawhi Leonard’s unknown situation somewhat throws rotation projections into a loop. If he returns, there are 30-35 minutes waiting for him. If not, which seems to be the case, there will be less doubt about open spots for playing time.
In 2017-18, the Spurs basically redshirted Derrick White as a rookie. He spent most of the year in the G League while receiving the occasional playing time at the NBA level, similar to Dejounte Murray in 2016-17 except without the frequent injuries.
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If the Spurs want to take the kid gloves off White and continue to emulate the Murray project, they would bring up the former for a larger role in the 2018-19 season. However, the path to playing time is not there, unlike what happened at point guard, with injuries and the eventual replacement of the aging Tony Parker in the starting lineup.
Due to Lonnie Walker’s higher spot in the draft than Murray or White, will they give him a larger role in the NBA in his first season? If so, that’s bad news for White, who would need to fight for playing time with him, Danny Green and whoever else returns at shooting guard.
Of course, White is an unknown product, but there’s also a four-year age gap between him and Walker. The Spurs may see more upside, then, in the latter and give him a longer leash if White struggles in an extended look.
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2. The writing on the wall is there for someone
When the San Antonio Spurs finished the 2017-18 season, they had Bryn Forbes, Brandon Paul, Danny Green, Derrick White and Manu Ginobili all capable of playing shooting guard. White held down a G League spot, but has a contract for three more seasons. Forbes, Green, Ginobili, Paul and White all have unknown futures, however.
All indications point to Green opting into his contract for the 2018-19 season. That brings back someone who can play at least 20-25 minutes at shooting guard and small forward.
However, Forbes, Ginobili and Paul’s statuses are all unknown, as none of them may be on the roster next season. Forbes can hit restricted free agency, Ginobili might retire and Paul’s contract is not guaranteed.
Lonnie Walker likely pushes one of these players out, maybe two, if the Spurs plan on a bigger role for White. Paul’s contract situation allows San Antonio to release him for nothing, so he seems like a decent bet to leave. If Ginobili wants to play a 17th season it’s impossible to see the organization turn him back. That leaves Forbes, a restricted free agent, as the other player on the outside looking in.
Patty Mills‘ ability to play the two guard can’t be forgotten, either. At 6-foot he’s undersized, but often played next to Dejounte Murray, who took over the starting point guard role.
The Spurs’ shooting-guard depth will look different next season, with one or two players let go after the selection of Walker. Who will that be?
1. More upside than the rest
Lonnie Walker joins the San Antonio Spurs as the player with the most upside of any shooting guard on the roster, which also goes for the ones who may depart this summer. That’s not breaking news since this part of the roster featured talented but limited players, whether they specialize in 3-point shooting or perimeter defense only.
For now, Walker profiles as a solid perimeter defender for San Antonio. His athleticism stands out and he owns a 6-foot-10.25 wingspan, an impressive and unteachable trait for someone that’s just shy of 6-foot-5 in shoes. So there’s the chance the Spurs can have their next Danny Green for years to come.
Can Walker shoot, though? He only averaged a 41.5 field goal percentage at Miami, but part of that was due to 5.1 3-point attempts (34.6 percent) out of 9.9 shots per game. The Spurs can rein in his shooting to take more efficient shots, along with expanding his offensive repertoire to work off the ball, which NBADraft.net noted that he did not show in school.
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Given the frequent ball movement, the Spurs offense contains, it’s possible Walker playing well without the ball imminently. Then, when necessary, he can continue to be effective as a ball handler and find ways to score in multiple ways.