Lonnie Walker is one of the most exciting San Antonio Spurs players in recent memory but he still has a long way to go to reach his potential
Where were you when you realized that Lonnie Walker was different from most San Antonio Spurs rookies? For many, it was probably April 3rd, 2019. In an otherwise unimportant road loss to the Denver Nuggets, the bouncy rookie put his full athleticism on display and showed Spurs fans why they should be so excited about what’s on the way.
Like most Spurs rookies, Walker hardly played in his first season. He only appeared in 17 games but made the most of them. On that night in Denver, he almost ended the career of a poor soul who would soon be his teammate.
Walker flew down the lane and exploded up into the air, he could almost look down into the basket. Rather than dunking poor Trey Lyles into the center of the earth, Walker elected to go for the finger roll, even as a rookie our young Sky Walker had excellent taste. And even though he ultimately missed the basket the play went viral on Twitter thanks to the Nuggets bench reaction.
In year two Lonnie finally got the playing time that we were hoping for. While he did sit behind Maro Belinelli for much of the season there were glimmers of greatness. His thrilling breakout game against the Houston Rockets was hands down the most exciting moment of the season for the Spurs.
He was impressive in his second season with the team but still has a long way to go before he’s even close to reaching his sky-high potential. Dejounte Murray and Derrick White are crucial, Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson are intriguing, but perhaps more than anyone else, the Spurs are putting their hopes on Walker developing into a star.
Next: The King
Despite never winning a Defensive Player of the Year award and rarely cracking the top-five in voting, LeBron James can still be one of the most imposing defenders in the league when he puts his mind to it. He has received some criticism throughout his career for slacking off on that end of the floor, perhaps conserving some of his energy for all the work he does on offense, but when he’s fully engaged LeBron can be a defensive force.
One of the biggest points of emphasis for Walker this summer is becoming more aware on the defensive end. We’ve seen him engaged in man to man defense at points, but there were also long stretches where he seems lost on that end of the floor.
More than any other player on the Spurs, Walker has the athleticism to somewhat replicate what we’ve seen James do to opposing offenses. How many times have you seen LeBron swat an opponents shot from the weakside, get a chase-down block, or jump a passing lane and fly the other way for a thundering dunk? All of those stem from his ability to blend his incredible athleticism with a rare consciousness of where everyone is on the court at all times.
The prime example has to be his incredible chase-down block in the Finals against Andre Iguodala. Only a handful of players in the NBA are capable of making a play like that, Lonnie Walker could be one of them someday.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/02/26/0021900869/564/ad951ed6-d606-04b1-140d-9bd983d9856f_1280x720.mp4
It’s not a chase-down but the above clip is a good example of how Walker is able to use his athleticism to track the opposing player through his drive and perfectly time his leap to get the block and avoid the foul.
If Lonnie can mimic how James floats around the edge of the action even when he’s not directly involved, carefully watching for opportunities to grab a steal or block, and merge that with his god-gifted ability to jump out of the gym he can be a real defensive menace to go along with the Dejounte Murray and Derrick White.
Next: A maestro around the rim
This whole article is dedicated to the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship team. After we cover Kyrie Irving we’re going to go in-depth on how Walker can study JR Smith’s clutch performance at the end of games.
But seriously, after Walker is done cutting the tape on James he should take a look at Irving’s masterful control around the rim. Kyrie has indisputably one of the best handles the history of the game but his layup package is in the top-ten as well. Even at just 6’2 he’s one of the most dangerous scorers in the league in the paint thanks to his ability to spin the ball off of the strangest angles and float it in over the tallest rim protectors.
Far too often this year we saw Walker fly towards the rim for an open look only to clank the shot off of the backboard or rim. At times it seemed like he was just rushing his shot, like he was going so fast that he forgot to slow down and just gently lay it in.
Just compare his shooting percentage inside of three feet with Irving’s. Walker hit on 58 percent of his shots within three feet of the rim, a fine mark, but Irving was significantly better at 67 percent.
A blur in transition, Walker can put a defense on their heels from the moment he touches the ball. But that won’t matter if he’s pairing ten-dollar drives with ten-cent finishes. The phrase ‘it doesn’t matter how you start, it’s how you finish’ has never rung so true.
Lonnie can become a dangerous offensive weapon for San Antonio, but he needs to slow down and work on his finishing ability in order to reach his ceiling. If he can steal even a smidge of Iriving’s layup package he will be one of the most dangerous driving options in the NBA.
Next: His current teammate
Early on in his career, DeMar DeRozan was rarely asked to fill a playmaking role with the Toronto Raptors, assisting on just 6.8 percent of the team’s baskets over his first two years in the league. He was more of a scorer and those Raptors teams had guys like Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry to fill that need.
But as DeRozan’s career progressed he was gradually asked to carry a larger and larger playmaking role. So much so that by the time he arrived in San Antonio he was nearly the leader ball handler. Dejounte Murray or Derrick White often started at the point but DeRozan initiated the offense often, setting some of the highest assists totals of his career as a result.
As DeRozan’s future with the San Antonio Spurs is in question, we could see a majority of the playmaking responsibilities fall back into the hands of White and Murray. If that is the case, secondary playmakers like Patty Mills and Walker will have to step up and exist as complementary options for when Murray or White don’t have the ball in their hands.
Setting up his teammates isn’t something that Walker has done much of in his time with San Antonio. It’s more of a result of a lack of necessity on the team’s part than a lack of ability from Walker. He’s assisted on 8.6 percent of the team’s baskets when he’s been on the floor. He was a bit more involved in college, helping his teammates out on 13 percent of the Hurricanes baskets while on the court.
He doesn’t need to become the next Magic Johnson but Lonnie can definitely improve as a ball-handler and passer. With DeRozan’s potential departure the San Antonio Spurs may need help in that area sooner than later.
The sky is truly the limit for the San Antonio Spurs bouncy second-year wing. If he does everything he can to reach his potential Lonnie Walker should be a great player in this league for years to come.