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San Antonio Spurs: Role change needed to bring out best in Lonnie Walker

Feb 11, 2021, 3:54 AM CST
Jan 22, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (1) guards Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) in the first half at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs

Jan 22, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (1) guards Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) in the first half at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Lonnie Walker’s had a mixed showing in larger role for San Antonio Spurs

In starting 22 games for the San Antonio Spurs this season, Lonnie Walker has shown flashes of a foundation for success, while also showing his youth and inexperience on both ends of the floor.

The Reading, PA native, selected 18th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft has been an electric commodity among fans and social media alike.

For a fanbase that is thirsty for their next superstar to take them back to the glory days of The Big Three, that might be a reason why they cling onto the “Skywalker”. His highlight reel athleticism, coupled with back to back 20 plus point outings earlier this season pointed in the correct direction for a potential “star in the making” narrative.

But as the season has gone along, the struggles have followed. While there have been good stretches for the third-year player, there’s been an equal amount of questionable, youthful moments that make you question whether or not he’s the answer at the two-guard spot.

Whether it be his inability to consistently have an impact on either end of the floor, or his unfavorable advanced numbers, the best path forward for Lonnie Walker is a move to the bench.

There have been highlights and lowlights but it’s clear now that this is the best move for both Walker and the Spurs. To prove this, let’s look at what he’s done well this season, what he needs to work on, and how a move to the bench could bring out the best in him.

Next: What Lonnie has done well

San Antonio Spurs

Jan 22, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (1) gets ready to shoot over Dallas Mavericks forward Tim Hardaway Jr. (11) in the first half at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Blending athleticism and shooting has made Walker an offensive threat

Offensively, he doesn’t have a clear-cut role. That’s partially his fault due to the unpolished offensive skill set he holds, but also on this coaching staff for not outlining one that he can stick to on a night in and night out basis.

While in the confines of his playing style though, there have been positive outings throughout the season, especially when he’s in a specific role in the offense.

One area of his game that has been a plus for Walker this season has been his ability to shoot off the catch from deep. Shooting 38.8 percent from downtown, Walker is shooting at a better clip than three-point marksman JJ Redick and solidified catch and shoot specialists like Buddy Hield and Davis Bertans.

While an increase in volume hasn’t equaled better efficiency numbers for “El Quatro”, his three-point percentage is still above league average.

Walker currently shoots 37.4 percent from beyond the arc. While that ranks him 99th in the NBA in terms of efficiency, he’s seeing a 124 percent increase of volume on three-point attempts. Given that his efficiency has maintained a level above league average from three-point range, even with the drastic increase in volume, there’s a positive in the book of Lonnie Walker.

Offensively, while the pull-up shooting numbers aren’t great, Walker has shown a sense of comfort as a one-dribble pull-up shooter.

When taking one dribble, Walker shoots 44.8 percent from inside the three-point line. His effectiveness as a one-dribble scorer is more efficient than guys like Brandon Ingram, Paul George, and Donovan Mitchell.

Lastly, while the assist numbers don’t pop out to you, he is becoming a more effective passer when driving to the basket. He’s not an uber elite live-action passer, but he can make strong reactive reads and doesn’t have as much tunnel vision on his drives to the basket as he did last season. His ability to attack the basket and use his athletic gifts to be a facilitator has been evident and will be useful in the future.

At this point, Walker’s offensive outings are much better and consistent than what he’s brought on the defensive end. As a catch and shoot player and a one-dribble scorer, Walker has excelled and shown the most comfort when out on the floor.

That’s the foundation for how he can be a contributor down the road, especially early on in his development.

Next: What does Lonnie need to work on

San Antonio Spurs

Jan 24, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) dribbles past San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (1) in the second half at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio Spurs can’t count on Walker to hold his own on defense

On offense, Walker brings something every night. If he’s not attacking the rim, he’s nailing shots from outside. If he can’t get that going, he can reasonably step in as a secondary playmaker. It’s on the defensive end that his struggles become clearer.

Defensively, Lonnie Walker has a defensive RAPTOR of -4.1, which is worse than guys like DeMar DeRozan, Luke Kennard, and Trae Young.

It’s also on that end where he places in the 37th percentile as a defender of the pick and roll ball handler. Continuing, he places in the 12.9th percentile when defending spot-up possessions and lastly, he places in the 18th percentile when defending dribble hand-off play-types.

The importance of these three situations on the defensive end is that this accounts for 73.2 percent of his defensive possessions when he’s on the floor.

His defensive inefficiencies show in the advanced column even more, as he has the second-worst defensive rating among all members of San Antonio’s 10 man rotation.

Lastly, he has four times as many fouls as he has steals, with twice as many fouls as he has steals and blocks combined.

While the defensive side of the court has caused issues for Walker, offensively outside of his comfort zone, he’s continued to struggle too.

Shooting well below league average from shots between 0-9 feet, Lonnie finishes at the rim at a 48.3 percent clip, while shooting 26.3 percent from ranges 5-9 feet.

He holds an offensive RAPTOR rating of -2.1, which is worse than guys like Jeff Teague, Cedi Osman, Isaiah Roby, and Elfrid Payton.

Whether you enjoy looking at the advanced metrics or not, it’s tough to find many that land in Walker’s favor. What you see on tape backs up what these numbers tell you.

The inconsistency night to night has been evident, and while this isn’t entirely his fault, there’s potential to turn the tide on what his third season in the NBA has been so far. There’s still a chance to switch the narrative for Lonnie and finally gain some much-needed momentum for this season and beyond.

Next: What's next for Walker and the Spurs

San Antonio Spurs

Feb 3, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Malik Beasley (5) dribbles into San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (1) in the second half at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Moving to a sixth-man role would benefit San Antonio Spurs and Walker

What’s next for Lonnie Walker is a move to the bench, once Derrick White is back in NBA-playing shape.

What may be looked at as a “demotion”, in reality, is a promotion for Walker’s development and ability to maintain a level of consistency.

It’s evident, whether you’re using the age-old eye test or using advanced metrics to back what you see, that Lonnie isn’t playing his best basketball with the starting unit right now.

Not necessarily his fault, the Spurs starting lineup has their three best players in DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray, and LaMarcus Aldridge commanding the max amount of usage when on the floor together.

That may be a cause for inconsistent play, rhythm issues, and a lack of being engaged throughout the course of a game. There have been nights he shoots five shots, there have been nights he takes 19.

But with inconsistent volume, inconsistent results, what shouldn’t be expected is for him to produce like an adequate starter when up to this point he isn’t there just yet.

With a move to the bench, up will come Derrick White. He’s someone who will benefit this offense by bringing in another offensive initiator and scoring threat, in addition to being arguably the best perimeter defender on the floor.

Both sides of the ball, in nearly every aspect other than athleticism, should considerably improve this Spurs starting lineup. With the insertion of White into the lineup, Walker can take on a new role where he can be looked at as a spark plug scoring option off the bench.

He can take on the role of being the scoring punch that’s needed from this bench unit, while also adding the dynamic of being a drive and kick passer too.

The Spurs bench unit collectively would benefit from a guy who can get defenses moving laterally and mentally, to collapse defenses and dish to the plethora of catch and shoot marksmen on the roster. With Derrick, they don’t have that dimension but with Lonnie, they do now.

The fit here is much better than what it is with the starting lineup, as even in scenarios where LW4 isn’t looking to score, he’ll be an instrumental part of this offense due to his slashing ability. He’ll be involved no matter the time of the game offensively, and defensively he won’t be expected to defend All-Stars as he has in 27.4 percent of his minutes.

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There’s still plenty of room to grow as it pertains to Lonnie Walker IV. While still being 22 years old and in just his third year as a professional, this isn’t the time to declare him a “bust” by any standards. But for now, it’s all about bringing him back to the basics and making the game slow down for him on both ends. A move to play alongside the second unit is the way to go.