Lonnie Walker is ready to enter the San Antonio Spurs starting lineup

Lonnie Walker of the San Antonio Spurs. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
Lonnie Walker of the San Antonio Spurs. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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It’s the moment we have all been waiting for. It’s time for the San Antonio Spurs to embrace their budding young star and make Lonnie Walker a starter.

Much of this discussion surrounding the San Antonio Spurs tumultuous start to the season has been around whether the team should continue to fight for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference or lean more on their young guys and look to the future. However, there is a way they can do both.

Through the first few months of the season, San Antonio’s dynamic sophomore guard Lonnie Walker has gradually increased his role on the team. After hardly playing for the first month and a half, Walker has quietly established himself as a valuable role player for the Spurs. It’s time for him to take the next step.

Gregg Popovich doesn’t hand playing time to young guys, they have to earn it. In Pop’s words, they have to make him look like an idiot for not playing them. Now, Pop is no idiot. Far from it. But he and the rest of the coaching staff should embrace the future and insert Walker into the starting lineup.

Other than LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, no one has played more for the Spurs this year than Bryn Forbes. Forbes has started every game for San Antonio this season and so far the results have been less than stellar. He doesn’t need to be relegated to the end of the bench but experimenting with different lineups and using him in a different role could be what San Antonio needs.

Forbes is a gunner. He’s at his best when he’s weaving through teammates and defenders alike, coming off of screens and nailing three-pointers. The issues arise on defense. Of the Spurs who have played meaningful minutes this year, Forbes has been the worst of the defensive end of the floor. He’s second to last on the team in defensive rating at 115.

Swapping the roles of Forbes and Walker benefits the Spurs in multiple ways. First and foremost, it brings San Antonio’s most dynamic player front and center. Walker has shown what he can do in limited minutes and he’s proven that he’s ready for more. As he told Jeff Garcia with Spurs Zone, he’s just listening to his coaches and play his game.

“He [Gregg Popovich] tells me to be aggressive, but also look for others. I’ve been trying to be smarter and find others and just play great defense.”

Lonnie’s athletic mid-air adjustments and thunderous dunks will generate the highlights but it’s what he does with his athleticism on the defensive end of the floor that makes him special. He is without a doubt the most athletic player the Spurs have had in some time and as he continues to learn how to harness that natural talent he will continue to make jaw-dropping defensive plays.

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He’s 6’5 205 lbs with a 6’10 wingspan and pogo sticks for legs. Pairing him with Dejounte Murray will help the Spurs cover-up DeRozan’s defensive shortcomings and put some of their best athletes on the floor together. Walker’s impact on the Spurs defense is clear, San Antonio has a 112.5 defensive rating when he sits compared to 99.8 when he’s on the floor.

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If you’re worried about the impact that replacing Forbes with Walker will have on San Antonio’s ability to space the floor, don’t be. Lonnie has quietly become the fourth most accurate three-point shooter on the team. He’s knocking down 39.3 percent of his shots from behind the arc.

He can space the floor, attack the rim as well as any player on the team, and defend much better than some of the Spurs other guards. Not to mention he plays hard every second he’s on the floor and that kind of energy is contagious.

Sure he makes some mistakes and can play out of control at times but that’s part of the learning curve and something the Spurs should absolutely be content to live with given all of the positive things he brings when he steps on the floor.

Furthermore, he’s very aware that he doesn’t need to play at 110 percent speed all the time. As the game continues to slow down for him he will be better able to pick and choose when he goes all gas. When he finally gets the hang of that he will be near unstoppable.

The last place you want to be as an NBA team is in no man’s land. Right now that’s exactly where the Spurs find themselves. They’re holding on to the eighth seed with a half-game lead over the Portland Trailblazers and sit four and a half games back of the seventh seed. They’re not winning the championship this year and they’re playing too well to get a top-ten draft pick.

With two aging stars and a few budding young ones, San Antonio is able to fight for their record-tying 23rd playoff appearance while also preparing for the future. But that future is built heavily around Lonnie Walker. Let’s see what the young guy can do in the starting lineup and let the chips fall where they may. If the worst-case scenario is a better draft pick than so be it.

Next. Shooting won’t save the San Antonio Spurs’ season, but some defense might

He’s one of the building blocks of the organization and one of the most exciting players this team has seen in years. Take the reins off of Lonnie Walker and let’s see what he can do in the starting lineup.

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