San Antonio Spurs 2019-20 Season Review: Lonnie Walker is progressing with playing time
Shooting Guard turned small forward Lonnie Walker IV has had flashes of stardom in year two with the San Antonio Spurs but still has a long way to go.
The 18th overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, Lonnie Walker IV, has had a crazy sophomore season with the San Antonio Spurs. With plenty of flashes of elite-level play to some blunders that follow, the good has outweighed the bad in year two for the Reading native.
For Walker, the beginning of the season was very slow. Through the first twenty games, he only played more than ten minutes one time but Walker has since busted into the Spurs’ rotation. While many believe the leash on Lonnie’s play has been way too short, the growing pains and learning experiences have paid off as the year has gone along.
Walker’s impressive outings against Houston early in the season along with the continuous impressive performances since entering the rotation leave the mouths of Spurs fans watering at the untapped potential in No. 1.
But, like with every second-year player, there’s been some troubles to go along with the success. From having Coach Pop fuming out of the ears due to missed defensive assignments, or the overall lack of feel for the game due to inexperience, Lonnie has gone through plenty of trials and tribulations in year two.
Next: Sophomore hardships
Three areas for Lonnie to work on
1. Finishing within 5 feet of the basket
When you read that statement you might think I’m an idiot. Yes, Lonnie Walker is capable of dunking the ball so viciously that the AT&T Center collapses. But, for a guy who’s taking around forty percent of his shots within five feet of the basket, a 53.3 percent field goal percentage isn’t very good. That’s where the issue lays.
Lonnie is capable of being a much better finisher at the rim than what he’s shown thus far. In terms of players who shoot around the same amount of shots within five feet per game, Lonnie trails the likes of Mike Conley, Austin Rivers, Garrett Temple, Rajon Rondo, Anfernee Simons, and various others in terms of field goal percentage. The message here is, Lonnie is capable of blowing these guys out of the water in terms of paint efficiency!
With the athleticism and burst he possesses, Walker should be clearing the 60 percent mark in terms of shot percentage within five feet of the basket. While more opportunities here might increase the shot percentage due to it being such a close range, you’d like to see a higher efficiency mark even with the limited opportunities at the basket.
Lonnie’s mid-air decision making is also a bit of a culprit here because not until right before the NBA’s suspension, Walker didn’t go up as strong at the basket as he should’ve. A lot of missed layups at the rim have occurred due to this, as he’s a 46.3 percent field goal shooter on lay-up attempts.
2. Adjusting to NBA IQ
This isn’t a portion where stats are required. There’s no box score or a defensive rating you can pull to truly justify this topic. The reason being, if your eyes were glued to the TV watching these games, it was evident early on and you’ll still catch a glimpse of Walker’s iffy decision-making.
This part of Walker’s game will be a work in progress for another season or so. In reality, this is Walker’s true rookie season as he spent a lot of time on the bench or in Cedar Park last season.
But, the missed defensive assignments and overall lack of feel for the game Lonnie showed early on was evident. Some could say Lonnie would press on both ends, looking to make a play to earn a permanent role in the Spurs rotation early on. Whatever the case may be, it hurt the Spurs at times, especially early on in the year.
After racking up numerous DNP’s and low minute totals, it seemed early on in the year that Lonnie Walker struggled to pick up any sort of rhythm on both ends. Unlike what many people think, this decision to ultimately put a short leash on Walker’s playing time has actually benefited his game, and the flow and patience he comes with on both ends night in and night out.
Whether it be a late closeout, leaving his man wide open, being stagnant off the ball, or missing rotations, Walker’s growing pains early on were evident on the TV and in Coach Pop’s eyes.
This caused a lot of frustration for the fans and seemingly the head coach, as both wanted to continue to see the young gun grow before our very eyes.
3. Struggled on the road
Now, this is something where the numbers yell at you. Walker indeed struggled on the road thus far in the 2019-20 season. In 28 games played on the road, Walker is averaging 14 minutes a night but is shooting 38.6 percent from the field, 32.4 percent from distance, and a hurtful 66.7 percent from the free-throw line.
With more opportunities and a better understanding of the professional game, these numbers will skyrocket positively. But as of now, Walker still is a work in progress offensively, especially on the road. Lonnie’s inability to catch any sort of rhythm in opposing arenas consistently puts the team at a disadvantage, especially if the Spurs’ two stars, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, aren’t playing their tails off.
Lonnie’s struggles on the road reek of being a young, inexperienced player, so I’m willing to accept that as an excuse early in his career, but there hasn’t been much to build on from a night-to-night basis as it pertains to his play on the road.
Several inefficient, ineffective nights from No. 1 just won’t cut it for a team who’s been a fringe playoff contender all season long. He something that needs to improve, for obvious reasons.
Next: The bright side from a potential star in the making
Despite his inefficiencies, Lonnie took a big step forward
Contrary to the final point on the first part of this piece, Walker improves his game immensely back at AT&T Center. With all of his percentages raised mightily, his play on tape seems much more fluid and comfortable throughout every contest. At home, Lonnie Walker is shooting 47.9 percent from the field, 48.6 percent from three and 76.9 percent from the charity stripe.
His more consistent play on the hardwood at home has been evident throughout the season. Lonnie’s breakout game came at home in a comeback effort against the Houston Rockets that the second-year player led by himself. His efforts ultimately gave the Spurs a win.
Walker is a much better player at home. His overall feel and comfort in a game are evident on tape, as he plays much freer when in the stadium filled with the Spurs faithful. You see Walker’s efforts and play continue to grow at a rapid pace; he’s an entirely different player at the AT&T Center.
Dunk, dives, gonna do whatever it takes ? pic.twitter.com/5hb3jNxb2e
— Lonnie Walker IV (@lonniewalker_4) March 3, 2020
Walker’s play at home consistently shows flashes of Manu Ginobili as his ability to feed off the home crowd, make hustle plays and passes that bring the nostalgia of a young Manu.
His ability to play fast and free at-home benefits the Spurs mightily. Whether it be an impactful five minute stretch of strong play on both ends like he’s done this year against Portland and Indiana or the overall consistent play he brings when at home in seemingly nearly every contest, Walker’s progression shines brightest in San Antonio.
Early in the year, Walker racked up a bunch of DNP’s and low minute totals. Despite moments of lackadaisical play from the sophomore this season, he bounced back tremendously as the year went along. Within the first two months of the season, he was a 36 percent field goal shooter, a 33 percent three-point shooter and shot just 14 percent from the free-throw line. He was borderline unplayable at points during the season.
After that, in three of the next four months, he shot 43.8 percent or better with his highest being December, when he shot 48.1 percent. His shots from deep started cashing out as he shot 36.4 percent or better every month after November and his free throw shooting never dipped under 70 percent.
Furthermore, his play on the court was much better based on the eye test. Lonnie, as the year went on, got a grip on the Spurs’ system. Any and everything he was struggling with immensely earlier on in the year seemed to get figured out as the season went along.
Walkers’ overall improvement has helped the Spurs get a major spark plug off the bench that’s been needed since Ginobili’s retirement. His athleticism and ability to play off others, plus the ability to provide excellent defense have been an immense help for a Spurs team that’s desperately needed a boost.
Next: Looking ahead for Lonnie
Walker’s future remains bright as could be
Lonnie Walker IV has had an impressive season, especially after the slow start. His noble sophomore season has folks ready for the youth movement to go into hyperdrive, with Lonnie potentially being a cornerstone for the franchise for years to come.
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Walker’s had so many impactful moments in games that absolutely wow you and show that he can be a star in the NBA. From crazy highlight dunks to being able to turn the corner defensively and stick some of the best isolation players in this league, he’s stepping up to the challenge.
Lonnie’s impact on defense also has been a huge help for this squad, as he’s versatile enough to guard positions one through three and stick with just about anybody in the league due to his length, athleticism, and anticipation.
While Lonnie is surely going to have some more growing pains and learning moments, No. 1 has steadily improved with more and more playing time. The key to his success here will be to continuously play him despite the struggles and see him blossom.
Getting opportunity has been an issue for many members of the youth movement, but for Walker, he’s made impacts on a game both with and without the ball in his hands.
That’s a building block to stardom in this league and one that will continue to provide optimism for Spurs fans across the globe.