How Manu Ginobili can help Lonnie Walker take a leap in a "prove it" year
I feel a bit like a broken record writing this but this season has the real chance to be a breakout year for Lonnie Walker. I said just about the same thing last season, but this year, Lonnie has the perfect mentor to help him address the weaker parts of his game.
With Dejounte Murray and Derrick White firmly entrenched as the San Antonio Spurs starting backcourt, Keldon Johnson providing size out on the wing, and Doug McDermott and Jakob Poeltl rounding out the frontcourt, there is very little room for Walker to crack the Spurs starting lineup. This sets him up to take on a role that he could be perfect for as the San Antonio Spurs next great Sixth Man.
While Lonnie certainly has the shot-making ability to provide the spark off the bench that most expect from a traditional sixth-man, his playmaking still leaves something to be desired. That's where Manu can help.
You probably remember Manu's passing most for his bold in-between-the-legs dimes or hammer passes to the opposite corner but Ginobili was also more than capable of running the Spurs' offense whenever he was on the floor. Over the course of his time with the Spurs, his role in running the offense gradually increased until he was responsible for nearly a third of the team's assists when he was on the floor at any given time.
Lonnie isn't anywhere near the playmaker Manu was, at least not yet. And unfortunately, so far, there isn't a lot of reason for optimism that he will reach that level, at least not without taking a drastic leap sometime soon. There have been flashes for sure, but a deeper look at the numbers shows a concerning level of stagnation.
On a per 100 possessions level, Walker has actually taken steps back since his rookie season. He went from averaging 3.7 assists per 100 possessions down to 3.3, and then down to 3.2 last season. Meanwhile, his turnovers have increased. And this is without any drastic changes in role or usage. As a playmaker, he hasn't made any major improvements since he entered the league.
If there's one thing Lonnie should focus on learning from Ginobili, it's how to effectively come off the bench and keep the offense running as if nothing changed. If he's not able to do that, he probably won't ever become the Spurs' next Sixth Man. If he can't do that, he's probably going to be relegated to a role as a microwave scorer for however long he remains in San Antonio.