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San Antonio Spurs: Lonnie Walker IV deserves a chance at consistent minutes

DENVER, CO - APRIL 3: Lonnie Walker IV #1 of the San Antonio Spurs dunks the ball during the game against the Denver Nuggets on April 3, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - APRIL 3: Lonnie Walker IV #1 of the San Antonio Spurs dunks the ball during the game against the Denver Nuggets on April 3, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Now that the G League season is over, the San Antonio Spurs should carve out a consistent role for swingman Lonnie Walker IV within the rotation.

Though Wednesday evening’s showing in Denver was mostly a lost cause, the San Antonio Spurs received a spark of excellence from rookie swingman Lonnie Walker IV. With assistant coach Ettore Messina managing the rotation in place of Gregg Popovich, who was ejected from the game in a record-breaking 63 seconds, ‘the Skywalker’ was unleashed on the Nuggets.

In just 16 minutes of play, Walker scored a career-high 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting. With sustained playing time and a supportive cast of players surrounding him, Walker moved quickly and confidently with the ball in his hands. Walker matched All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge in scoring and tied for the best scoring performance on the team.

The smooth jumper and keen decision-making that Walker exemplified were overshadowed by one simple play where Walker truly showed off his bounce. Late in the fourth quarter, Walker got past his defender on the perimeter and raced to the rim where he displayed his athletic ability to the fullest extent.

As forward/center Trey Lyles rotated to the basket, Walker leaped and cocked the ball back as if he was preparing to throw down the dunk of the year. Instead, Walker drew body contact and attempted to ‘jelly’ a layup off the glass as if he channeled the talent of Spurs legend George Gervin for a slight moment.

.@lonniewalker_4 with the UPs!

He may have gotten fouled but let's appreciate the air and the hair! #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/A4Z6etIhwc

— FOX Sports Southwest (@FOXSportsSW) April 4, 2019

Walker made one of his two free throw attempts and the team lost by double-digits, but this short moment showed the basketball world that Lonnie Walker is the real deal. He’s spent almost the entirety this season working with the team and practicing with the Austin Spurs in the G League.

Through 29 games in Austin, Walker averaged 16.6 points, three rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.2 steals per contest. The rookie shot a respectable line of 43.8 percent from the field, 35.8 percent from three and 81.1 percent from the charity stripe while limiting himself to only 1.5 turnovers per game. Over the course of the season, we’ve witnessed Walker grow more comfortable with the pace and intensity of the professional game while expanding his exceptional skill set.

Within the hierarchy of Spurs players, rookies usually work their way up through the rotation after serving a season or two developing in Austin. We’ve seen it with Bryn Forbes, Dejounte Murray and, most recently, Derrick White over the course of the last few seasons. After taking the time to learn about the Spurs way and putting in the work necessary to hone their craft, each player eventually gets inserted to the main rotation.

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It might be time for the Spurs to tweak this natural order considering Walker’s status as a near-lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Injury concern caused Walker to slip in the draft to San Antonio with the 18th pick, securing another building block for the future of the franchise. The rhetoric behind Walker has been that his character and skill make him an easy fit for San Antonio’s culture, so inserting him to the rotation ahead of the playoffs might cause headaches for opposing coaches.

There aren’t many players on the current roster with the dynamism of Walker. Few players can combine the shot creation and bounce that he possesses, especially at just 20 years of age. We don’t know if this year’s Spurs squad has another gear to shift into once the postseason rolls around, maybe Walker can be the key to spicing things up and getting the team back on track after this sloppy finish to the regular season.

Following the loss to Denver, sharpshooter Marco Belinelli popped up on the San Antonio injury report with a sore hip. With the playoffs just a few games away, Friday’s matchup against Washington could be a great chance for Popovich to gauge Walker’s progress by inserting him to the normal rotation while giving the 33-year-old Beli a night to rest.

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Whether it’s this year, next year or in the year after that, Spurs fans are going to fall in love with Lonnie Walker IV.

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