San Antonio Spurs: Lonnie Walker’s passing can be transformative for the young core

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - AUGUST 07: Lonnie Walker IV #1 of the San Antonio Spurs drives the ball against Georges Niang #31 of the Utah Jazz and Ed Davis #17 of the Utah Jazz at HP Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 07, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. 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. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - AUGUST 07: Lonnie Walker IV #1 of the San Antonio Spurs drives the ball against Georges Niang #31 of the Utah Jazz and Ed Davis #17 of the Utah Jazz at HP Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 07, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. 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. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Sophomore Lonnie Walker IV’s passing and penetration have been influential in Orlando. If he keeps it up, it’ll transform the San Antonio Spurs’ young core.

By halftime of the San Antonio Spurs’ victory against the New Orleans Pelicans, sophomore standout Lonnie Walker IV had already set his career-high in assists. It’s a trait that wasn’t exemplified in the early stages of his career, but during this developmental period in the Orlando restart, it’s on full display. Starting at the small forward next to the guard duo of Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, Walker isn’t always going to have the ball in his hands.

However, it’s conceivable that Walker grows into that role as veterans depart and he becomes a bigger part of the Spurs’ offensive gameplan. Getting to the rim is a guarantee for Walker no matter who’s covering him. That penetration almost always ensures a defensive rotation and lately, Walker’s been taking advantage of that.

When the defense collapses, Walker rockets accurate and eccentric passes to the wing to generate high-percentage looks for his teammates. This is hugely influential for a young core of guys who aren’t necessarily high-volume shooters but can knock them down in the flow of the game. This pertains to Murray more than anyone as White, Walker and even Keldon Johnson can create separation for 3-pointers off the dribble more often.

No hesitation.@lonniewalker_4 ➡️ @DejounteMurray pic.twitter.com/E1UD2Dvsco

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) August 9, 2020

There are plenty of things that Walker needs to work on before he can be a go-to scoring presence. His finishing near the rim has been disappointing and while he can create space for jumpers and floaters, Walker isn’t making those shots consistently. However, the scoring threat and athleticism that he brings to the table already command attention from opposing defenders.

With that in mind, it’s going to keep getting easier for him to find open teammates if his vision develops as it has. Walker’s career-high six assists against New Orleans notched his sixth game with at least three assists this season. Each of those has come since the middle of January when Walker’s role in the rotation became more consistent and definite.

There’s a lot for Walker to learn from the Spurs’ leader, DeMar DeRozan. While scoring is his primary operative on the court, DeRozan has learned to use his scoring threat to open up the floor and create easy looks for others. If there’s anything that Walker is going to take away from his time sharing the court with DeMar, it’s that great scorers can do more than just shoot. So far in Orlando, Lonnie is exemplifying that mentality wholeheartedly.

What a find. @lonniewalker_4 | #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/OO2i31Kene

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) August 9, 2020

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Finding shooters isn’t the only way that Walker is improving as a playmaker. His connection with the roll-man as a pick-and-roll ball-handler has been splendid. Time and time again, he’s found a cutting Jakob Poeltl with tight windows of opportunity for easy shot attempts at the basket. Finishing isn’t necessarily Walker’s strong suit just yet, but defenders don’t know that based on how he moves.

Using his athleticism to draw gravity away from the roll-man is going to help Walker ascend to the next level of NBA starter. If he continues to grow as a passer at the rate he has thus far, the ceiling on Walker is going to rise exponentially. Lonnie has a genuine chance to become an All-Star for this Spurs squad heading into the future.

A comparison to consider is a more athletically-gifted Khris Middleton. Maybe he’s not going to be the No. 1 option on his team, but Middleton uses his length and talent to generate high-efficiency buckets for Milwaukee. When he needs to take over, he’s willing to give buckets to anyone in his path. Otherwise, Middleton is working within the flow of the offense for the betterment of his team.

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I’d say that sky’s the limit for Lonnie, but the Skywalker already flies too high for that.

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