San Antonio Spurs: Five reasons for Lonnie Walker IV to start in G League
By Rob Wolkenbrod
Lonnie Walker IV should be a candidate to start the 2018-19 season in the G League for the San Antonio Spurs.
In June’s NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs selected Lonnie Walker IV at No. 20 overall; this was the franchise’s highest non-trade pick in the first round since 1997, when Tim Duncan went No. 1 overall. It’s outside the lottery for Walker, so expectations may be lower than usual.
Walker enters a crowded Spurs backcourt, and playing time could be in question for the 19 year old. Other factors may play in for his use in the NBA, so might the organization start him in the G League for the 2018-19 season?
It would not be an unusual move for the Spurs to make, and recent history calls for this. Walker to the G League makes sense, with reasons to accompany it.
5. No need to rush Walker
Development time usually goes to MLB, NFL, and NHL players, due to the size of their rosters or the depth of a minor league system. The NBA only started to do this within the past five years, as the G League increased its number of teams and became a more open way for draft picks to develop, since the 15-man rosters at the professional level are limited.
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The San Antonio Spurs have played patient with their last two first-round picks, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White. Both entered the league with their own questions, and at No. 29 overall in the draft, they had less pressure to perform immediately, especially for a perennial playoff team.
Murray and Walker both spent some or most of their respective rookie seasons in the G League, to hone their skills and round out their games. That’s while San Antonio found success in the playoff picture and let players with more experience take the reins. Once Murray had his feet under him in 2016-17, the Spurs gave him a significant role; the same may happen with White.
Walker can go this route, even as this Spurs team enters the year with questions. They have a mostly full roster that may need to be trimmed. With plenty of guards already on the roster, it should let the Silver and Black take caution and let their rookie grow.
Next: An arrival
4. DeMar DeRozan’s arrival
Before the Kawhi Leonard trade, there was a clear-cut opening for Lonnie Walker IV at playing time, as he could battle with Marco Belinelli, Bryn Forbes and Derrick White for playing time. Though, the return package for Leonard changed the circumstances.
DeMar DeRozan was the main piece of San Antonio’s return for Leonard, someone who will take up at least 30 minutes per game based on his history with the Toronto Raptors. That takes a chunk of playing time from all potential shooting guards on the roster, including Walker.
The depth at shooting guard was already strong, but DeRozan’s arrival pushes everyone down a peg. That may mean someone receives sparse playing time or falls out of the rotation. For a player as young as Walker, he needs consistent playing time to develop, and that will not happen with the current state of the roster.
If DeRozan suffers an injury, playing time would open for Walker, who can always take the Austin to San Antonio line, back and forth, much like White did last season. Injuries ravaged the Spurs from October to April, so if it’s anything similar, it’s possible the Miami product takes at least a stint of ample playing time.
Next: Veteran guards off the bench
3. The veteran guards off the bench
DeMar DeRozan will take the shooting guard reins, but the depth does not stop there. Marco Belinelli, Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills all have main spots off the bench, and each should receive about 20 minutes per game or more.
Belinelli arrived to bring three-point shooting off the bench (or start, pending what Gregg Popovich decides). For a team that finished in the bottom five in this category, the San Antonio Spurs may look to use him often.
Ginobili will hold a spot no matter how long he chooses to play with the Spurs. As of this writing, his decision for a 17th season remains unknown, but lock him in for 18-20 minutes if that’s the case, as San Antonio has few veteran figures to help the team.
Mills should be the main backup point guard to Dejounte Murray, now that Tony Parker is gone. There are other ball handlers on the roster, but Mills’ diminutive size and scoring ability put him in position as the second string.
This depth pushes Lonnie Walker down the line and behind for playing time, which would only lead to garbage minutes in NBA games. Of course, in the G League, veteran presences do not exist, like this.
Walker can learn from these veterans, but playing time is what matters for him. They may consume most of it.
Next: Young guards off the bench
2. The young guards off the bench
Behind the veterans, young shooting guards sit on the bench. Lonnie Walker fits in with them, but at least one year of experience trends in their favor for the 2018-19 season.
Bryn Forbes, a two-year veteran, played his first full year with the San Antonio Spurs in 2017-18. He did not flash defensive upside, but the team needs all the three-point shooting it can get next season, and he acted as one of their best in this area, leading the team in three-point percentage. That’s among players who appeared in 25 games or more.
As noted, Derrick White spent most of the year in the G League. Like Dejounte Murray, year two should be an opportunity for a full time run in the Association. It might not be grand but in the range of 10-15 minutes per game. White averaged 20.1 points, 5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks per game on 45.2 percent shooting.
San Antonio can always have Forbes, Walker and White compete for minutes, given how young all three players are. However, without the benefit of NBA experience, it potentially puts Walker at the end of the line. If so, and with the veteran guards around, where’s the space for him? Nowhere but Austin it seems.
Next: Opportunity to thrive
1. Opportunity to thrive
Put everything together, and it’s an intriguing opportunity for Lonnie Walker to stick in the San Antonio Spurs’ G-League affiliate. It makes sense for the organization to follow through with, too, as the season approaches.
Walker does not have the benefit of immediate playing time, with everyone that’s head on the depth chart. That’s not a negative, since the G League is there for players to thrive and find experience against professional players, with the NBA dream temporarily on hold.
Derrick White grasped his chance to make an impression in Austin, and did so wih the aforementioned stat sheet-stuffer numbers. San Antonio likely won’t confirm his role until training camp or the preseason arrives, but he made the most of an opportunity and it should translate to a lasting role with the main squad.
Dejounte Murray’s G League time, even with injuries sprinkled in, helped put him in position for quality playing time. Tony Parker’s recovery from a torn quadriceps factored in, but it was still a prerequisite for what would follow, after 17.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists with Austin.
As well, in the G League, Walker can become the leader of the pack in scoring. Jaron Blossomgame might return and take a chunk of the load, but in a 1A-1B situation, these two can work together to go back-to-back for the championship; this can’t hurt for experience, either.
A trip to the G League makes sense for Walker, who can grow into the player the San Antonio Spurs want him to become. It may take time, but it’s a proper situation if everything lines up in this predicted fashion.