Heading into his second year with the San Antonio Spurs, swingman Lonnie Walker IV needs to attain a few more skills to crack Gregg Popovich’s rotation.
While the offseason marks an opportunity to take a vacation and enjoy the lifestyle of a professional basketball player for the veterans of the San Antonio Spurs, the Summer is when activities ramp up for the team’s youth. Not only is significant growth anticipated for rookies heading into their sophomore campaign, but it’s almost required for them to retain a role within the organization.
This summer, the spotlight shines upon fan favorite shooting guard Lonnie Walker IV. The 20-year-old Pennsylvania-native will have a featured role for the Spurs as they head to Salt Lake City Summer League before the main event – Las Vegas Summer League in early-July.
Over the course of the next month, Walker needs to expand his skill set to prepare for the high level of competition that he’ll be thrust into. While Walker already possesses a handful of raw skills that should translate to the league, but he also needs to work on his all-around game to fulfill his potential.
As a player going through the Summer League tour for the second time, he’s expected to show leadership and sound decision making skills while backing it up with noteworthy statistics. Even though he’s proven that his ceiling is as high as he pushes it, Walker needs to address a few specific areas through the Summer of 2019.
Next: Utilizing athleticism in all facets of the game
Utilizing athleticism in all facets of the game
There’s no denying that Lonnie Walker IV is one of the most explosive athletes that the Spurs have rostered in recent memory. His exquisite vertical is matched with a level of acrobatic body control that’s hard to come by in this league, especially at the two-guard position. Spurs fans have been aware of his capability since the swingman was drafted one year ago, but Walker’s lack of playing time and national attention has kept his athleticism under wraps.
While leading San Antonio in the Summer League, Walker needs to put his athleticism to use through multiple outlets. He averaged 5.2 boards per 36 minutes as a rookie and 2.9 rebounds in 27.3 minutes through 29 games in the G League this season. His feel for the game and leaping ability make him a prime candidate to attack the glass by catching defenders off guard and flying over them for boards.
Furthermore, Walker can put the league on notice with some of his signature acrobatic layups this Summer. Combo guard Derrick White put the league on notice by throwing down a tremendous one-handed spike over Paul Millsap in the playoffs. Walker is a prime candidate to throw down a massive jam and put an unexpected victim on a poster during the Summer League.
Natural gifts like Lonnie’s don’t come around frequently, especially in the Alamo City. He combines a lanky frame, wide shoulders and a long wingspan while continuing to add muscle and prepare himself for the next level of competition. Now it’s time to put his hard work to the test by exemplifying his capabilities as a potentially elite NBA athlete.
Next: Improvement as a secondary ball handler
Improvement as a secondary ball handler
Boasting a handful of talented and capable guards in their backcourt, the Spurs have a wide range of players that can take over as primary ball handler in any given moment. Derrick White’s breakout campaign coincided with star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan’s best complete season as a passer. With starter Dejounte Murray returning to the lineup in the 2019-20 season, Lonnie Walker won’t be relied upon as a preliminary distributor.
Instead, Walker needs to adapt to become a reliable secondary ball handler, operating the pick-and-roll or passing within team sets to initiate offense for himself and others. His assist percentage through 118 minutes last season was 10.3, leaving room for improvement. San Antonio values team-based basketball above all else, so Walker’s development as a passer is key to the organization’s long-term potential.
Walker is adept at stringing together hesitations and crossovers to get to the rack, shifting the gravity of the court and drawing help defenders in the process. The next logical step in his progression is to find open teammates based on the way that he forces help defenders to rotate.
Assuming he’ll run with the second unit next year, Walker should be surrounded by capable three-point shooters like Davis Bertans, Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes. Finding those players behind the arc for open jumpers greatly advances this team’s hopes of surpassing 50 wins in the regular season and making a playoff run.
The sophomore is sure to assume a huge role for the Spurs’ summer roster, which means the rock will be in his hands more often than not. This is an excellent opportunity for him to practice his dribble drives and showcase some passing vision within a team system. Ball movement is key to success in the modern NBA and Walker is a highly intelligent individual, he’ll be sure to keep it moving.
Whether it’s for his own scoring purposes or for the betterment of the team as a whole, the Spurs will be better off with Walker’s handles at their best.
Next: Improving defensive awareness and translating it to offense
Improving defensive awareness and translating it to offense
One of the best ways to bother opponents is by stopping momentum with a deflection, something DeMar DeRozan became quite adept at in the previous season under Gregg Popovich. Walker has the makings of a high-upside defender as his career progresses and is motivated enough to show substantial effort on that side of the ball.
Walker needs to be aware of his surroundings by playing up on defenders, making good use of his 6-foot-10 wingspan by stripping the ball from opponents and jumping into passing lanes.
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He tallied seven total steals in limited minutes logged for the Spurs this season and averaged 1.2 steals per game in the G League last season.
San Antonio finished with the fewest transition points per game last season with only 12.9 per contest. This is where Walker, along with the reimplementation of Dejounte Murray to the lineup, will help the Spurs to excel as a cohesive unit. With young athletes willing and ready to run the fastbreak, leads will be easier to build and momentum will come easier than it would with an isolated mid-range jumper.
There’s been a shift in the power dynamic of the Spurs in recent years. Younger players are growing more valuable than they ever were in the 19 season Tim Duncan-era in San Antonio and Walker is expected to be a major contributor to that change. Few players have garnered the excitement that Walker has from this fan base through his first season.
With the proper amount of effort applied to his craft, Walker will solidify himself a valued position within Pop’s rotation for years to come.