Jan 4, 2020; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (1) warms up before game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum. (Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)
How can the San Antonio Spurs bouncy young guard force his way in?
In his second season with the San Antonio Spurs, we started to see Lonnie Walker become a more complete player. He’s still got a long way to go but the dynamic guard is only continuing to fuel the hopes of Spurs fans with his play.
He was stuck on the bench for the first few weeks of the season. Gregg Popovich’s preference for playing veterans like Marco Belinelli was a huge point of frustration for Spurs fans for a while there. But as the season went on, Lonnie’s talent and improvement helped him force his way into the rotation.
He led San Antonio to their most exciting win of the season – a double-overtime comeback over the rival Houston Rockets – and made his first starting appearance in early January. Walker took off after the All-Star break, and, when the Spurs went small in the bubble, he was a regular starter.
With Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli moving on there has never been a greater opportunity for Walker to assert himself as a full-time starter. He’s going to have to continue to improve to make it a sure thing but it’s not out of the question.
Here is what Lonnie Walker needs to focus on if he wants to remain a fixture in the San Antonio Spurs starting lineup.
Next: Keep lighting it up from deep
Jan 26, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (1) shoots a three point shot over Toronto Raptors guard Terence Davis (0) in the second half at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
Lonnie Walker can become the San Antonio Spurs best shooter
San Antonio Spurs fans, this writer among them, loved to criticize Forbes and Belinelli for their lackluster defense. The criticisms were valid, but the two also brought their fair share to the team.
They were two of the team’s most prolific 3-point shooters per 36 minutes and now they’re gone and someone is going to have to step up to fill the void they’re leaving behind. Lonnie Walker seems like the perfect man for the job.
The high flying dunks and fancy layups will generate the highlights for Twitter but where Lonnie has his biggest impact on the Spurs is from behind the arc. He’s quietly emerged as one of the team’s most dangerous long-range weapons.
After the All-Star break, Walker took off. He doubled his 3-point attempts per game from 1.3 to 2.6 and was hitting 43.6 percent of them. That’s a rate that, if extended across a full season, would have made him one of the five most accurate 3-point shooters in the league.
Furthermore, good things happen the Spurs encourage Lonnie to light it up! They were a perfect 5-0 in games when he attempted five or more three’s. With Forbes and Beli gone those games are likely going to happen more often this year. Let’s see if the perfect record can stand.
This is a team that needs up the amount of 3-point shots they take if they want to find success. They shot the 3rd fewest 3-pointers in the league last year, that’s a position that they should make a concerted effort at improving on. There’s no one better suited to lead that charge than Walker.
Next: Improve near the rim
Feb 10, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (1) drives to the net against Denver Nuggets forward Torrey Craig (3) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)
The San Antonio Spurs need Lonnie Walker to improve his finishing touch
A player with Walker’s explosiveness should have no problem getting to the rim. And Lonnie doesn’t, he’s easily able to fly past defenders and elevate to the cup. The problem is finishing once he gets there.
Far too many times we’ve seen Walker elevate and then clank what should be an easy layup off the rim. We’ve all seen the video of him flying towards the rim, stunning the Denver Nuggets bench with how high he’s able to leap. But notice how he didn’t actually make that layup, it smacked right off the backboard.
According to Stat Muse, Walker was hitting 51.2 percent of his shots near the restricted area, a solidly lower figure than the league average of 58.3 percent.
With nearly 32 percent of his field-goal attempts coming within 3 feet of the rim, even a moderate improvement on his finishing rate would do wonders for Walkers scoring averages.
It likely won’t be the deciding factor in whether or not Walker gets a starting role this year but improving on his ability to finish near the rim will only strengthen Walker’s case as to why he should be the San Antonio Spurs starting shooting guard.
Next: Defense, defense, defense
Oct 13, 2019; San Antonio, TX, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) dribbles in against San Antonio Spurs guards Lonnie Walker IV (1) and DeMar DeRozan (10) at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
Lonnie Walker can be a shutdown defender for the San Antonio Spurs
I would tell you that there’s no way Gregg Popovich will make Walker a starter if he can’t hold his own on defense but, as we’ve seen over the past few years, Pop and the coaching staff are willing to tolerate pretty glaring shortcomings on the defensive end if you’re knocking down three’s on the other. Still, improving as a defender would be an easy way for Walker to raise his odds of being named a starter.
Holiday is one of the best defensive guards in the league so you’ve got to hope that Walker was picking his brain in between workouts for tips on how he can improve on his own.
For all of his athleticism, Walker still has a lot of improving to do as a defender. There are times where he looks completely lost out there. The advanced stats back this up too, he was below DeMar DeRozan in both defensive win shares and defensive box plus/minus, and yet, for some reason, Walker rarely ever faced the criticism that DeRozan did for his defense.
Maybe some of that is due to his youth and the fact that he’s still got so much potential to become a great defender but this year let’s start to see some of that potential become realized.
He’s taken big step forwards in both of his two years with the San Antonio Spurs but let’s see if Lonnie Walker can do what it takes to take this next leap and become a full-time starter.