Aug 13, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talks with Lonnie Walker IV #1 of the San Antonio Spurs during the first quarter against the Utah Jazz at The Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs young combo guard has been on an impressive track
We’re only a week away from the start of the preseason and you can feel the excitement growing. Sometimes it feels like we were just watching the last two teams leave the bubble and here we are, ready to see the San Antonio Spurs and the rest of the league take the court once again.
Wearing bold new jerseys and playing the same up-tempo, exciting style that we saw in Orlando, the Spurs are giving their fans plenty to be excited about this year. Their fight to return to the playoffs will be tough but it’s a mountain this team is capable of climbing.
Regardless of how their record turns out, it’ll be good to see another year of growth from the Spurs’ young players. They’ve sent a shot of energy through the fanbase and it’s going to be interesting to see how they perform this season.
They’ve all put in work during the offseason but what Lonnie Walker did has really gotten Spurs fans going. After taking a few days off, Walker got right back in the gym and dedicated himself to having a great third year in the league. As part of his offseason, he spent time working out with the Milwaukee Bucks’ new star point guard, Jrue Holiday.
Holiday is a great player for Walker to be learning from. He’s consistently named by his peers as one of the most underappreciated players in the league and is widely regarded as a two-way force.
Looking back at their first two years in the league, Walker and Holiday match up pretty well against each other. Let’s look at where Holiday was at Lonnie is at his career and how Holiday can help Lonnie have the same kind of success he’s had.
Next: Impact on defense
Aug 9, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (right) drives around San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (left) during the first half of an NBA basketball game at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
Jrue Holiday can help Lonnie Walker become an elite defender
If you’re just looking at awards, Jrue Holiday isn’t the guard you would pick out as the top defender in the NBA. But ask around the league and his name is one that’s bound to come up more than a few times.
During an episode of The Old Man and the Three, Damian Lillard told JJ Redick that Holiday was at the top of his list among guards.
“To me, he’s the best defender in the league. Like, out of the guards, I think he’s the best defender. And even after that series everbody was like ‘Man, Jrue Holiday did his…’ and after the series – he did a great job, he’s a great defender…But he did a great job. I love Jrue.”
Later, when Redick had Holiday on the podcast, he told his teammate that he was the best one on one defender he had seen in his life.
These aren’t talking heads lofting hyperbolic compliments from daytime TV, these are seasoned veterans calling Holiday the top defender in the league. That’s the level that Walker should aspire to, and Holiday can help him get there.
Holiday has been an elite defender since he came into the league. He was averaging 1.5 steals per game since his second season in the league and never looked back. He’s been using his long frame and brilliant instincts to shut down some of the league’s best scorers for a decade now.
One of Holiday’s most elite skills as a defender is his ability to stay glued to his man. Not only does he do a great job of staying in front of the guy he’s guarding, but he also takes a smart amount of risks on his own and has the quickness to recover if he gets beat.
Another thing that stands out is how fast his hands are. He’s regulalry poking his hand in at just the right time to jar the strip the ball. He’s among the best in the league in terms of steals and deflections and finished 12th and 2nd in each respective category this past season.
But if there’s one thing about Holiday’s defensive impact that Lonnie should look to emulate it’s his versatility. According to the BBall Index, Holiday guarded All-Star and All-NBA caliber players 37.1 percent of the time and graded out in the 88th percentile in defensive versatility. He’s in the rare group of players who can guard Kevin Durant one night and hold down Damian Lillard the next.
Holiday does all of this while standing 6’3 with a 6’7 wingspan. Comparatively, Walker stands 6’5 with a 6’10 wingspan. He’s got the athleticism and the build to be a truly elite, versatile defender.
Walker can reach that level but he needs to stay locked in at all times on the defensive end to make that happen. The Spurs already have two elite defenders in Derrick White and Dejounte Murray and Walker has the potential to be just as good, if not better, than both of them.
The points of Holiday’s defensive arsenal that Lonnie should focus most on are his lateral agility, quick hands, and versatility. If Walker can dedicate himself to reaching Holiday-like levels in all of those areas he’ll be starting for the Spurs in no time.
Next: Studying Jrue Holiday's playmaking
Aug 9, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (right) passes the ball past New Orleans Pelicans forward Nicolo Melli (20) during the first half of an NBA basketball game at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
Lonnie Walker should study Jrue Holiday’s playmaking
Lonnie Walker and Jrue Holiday had vastly different starts to their careers but through their first two seasons, they compare pretty well on the offensive end of the floor. Just look at how closely they matched up on a per 36-minute basis during their second seasons in the league.
- Jrue Holiday (’10-11): 14.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 36.5 3P%
- Lonnie Walker (’19-20): 14.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals, 40.6 3P%
To Walker’s credit, he had a better shooting year this year than Holiday has had at any point in his career so far. He looks like he can be an elite shooter, which couldn’t better news for a Spurs team that’s light on 3-point threats right now.
Where Walker should really focus on modeling himself after Holiday is in his playmaking ability. He’s been working on his ball-handling and his passing has come along quite nicely. But he still hasn’t shown that he can lead an offense like Holiday was able to at this point in his career.
A lot of it comes down to opportunity. During his second season, Holiday started all 82 games for the Philadelphia 76ers and played almost exclusively at the point guard spot. He was handed the keys to the offense at a very young age and showed that he could handle the responsibility.
Comparatively, Walker spent the first part of his sophomore season glued to the bench. He eventually cracked the lineup and was a key rotation player by the end of the season but even when he did play he wasn’t getting the same kind of exposure as Holiday did.
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When Walker was on the floor he was rarely asked to initiate the offense. During his second season, he assisted on just 9.6 percent of the Spurs baskets. Holiday helped out on 29 percent of the 76ers points during his second year. But it’s not like Walker is incapable of being a playmaker.
During the Spurs’ time in the bubble, Walker showed off his passing ability. He was averaging 3 assists per game and had a solid 2:1 assist to turnover ratio. He made smart decisions but threw in a few flashy one-handers to keep things entertaining.
He proved that it’s been an issue of a lack of opportunity, not a lack of talent. If the Spurs get back to playing the way they did in Orlando and the work Lonnie did over the offseason pays off we could be in for a breakout season in terms of what we see from him as a playmaker.
Walker’s shooting ability makes him one of the San Antonio Spurs’ most important players on offense. But if he’s able to become a nightly threat to lead the Spurs in assists like Holiday could, he’ll have greatly raised the ceiling on what this team is capable of.
Jrue Holiday has made a long NBA career out of being one of the best two-way guards in the league. San Antonio Spurs fans should be crossing their fingers and hoping Lonnie Walker can have such a career.