How Spurs' Lonnie Walker can turn his season around
By Cal Durrett
San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker is now in his fourth season and while there were high hopes that he'd have a breakout year, he's underwhelmed thus far. After all, with increased opportunity and financial motivation, many fans expected him to begin to live up to his significant promise.
However, he's failed to meet those expectations even in his contract season. Fortunately, there’s still plenty of time for him to turn things around, but it will require a change in approach on his part. So how can Walker turn his season around? Let’s take a look.
When taking a look at Walker's numbers, one stat stands out more than others: he leads the team in 3-point attempts per game. That’s surprising considering he’s not among the team’s best shooters, though he's at least capable. Despite that, he inexplicably continues to fire away, even as his 3-point percentage has dipped down to 28.2%, which is the second-worst on the team.
So why in the world does he keep taking them? The main reason is likely the coaching staff, who’s apparently given him the green light to shoot over the last couple of seasons, especially as the team struggled to get up threes.
This has led to him taking a number of ill-advised threes, many of them in transition. While those have contributed to his issues, Walker’s clanking of wide-open threes has compounded his shooting woes.
Worse yet, he rarely gets to the basket or the free-throw line. In fact, roughly 70% of his shots have come from outside of 10 feet. Therefore, for Walker to begin to turn his season around, he’ll have to improve his shot selection in addition to shooting the ball better. After all, he seems perfectly comfortable continuing to shoot jumpers even as they continue to careen wildly off the rim.
As a result, Walker should change his approach and aggressively look to drive, particularly during closeouts where he can use his speed to blow by his defender and get into the paint. Once in the paint, he’d have higher percentage options including shooting floaters, shots at the rim, and free throws resulting from being fouled.
The Spurs need to use Lonnie Walker as more than a spot-up shooter
Walker could also benefit from being used more in pick and rolls or in direct handoffs. Anything that allows him to get into the paint easier. He certainly has the ability to become an effective slasher but, for whatever reason, he hasn't been able to do that so far in his career. Instead, he's been asked to play a role that doesn't make full use of his skills.
Some of that is on Walker, considering that he's struggled to finish at the rim and seems allergic to contact when trying to finish in the paint. This is in contrast to teammate Keldon Johnson, who’s far less athletic but is perfectly comfortable absorbing contact when driving.
Moreover, that same mentality could do wonders for Walker if he was to adapt it. He could also take a page out of Doug McDermott’s book. In addition to being among the league's best 3-point shooters, McDermott is also able to score effectively off of cuts, direct-handoffs, and drives, and even shot 64.8% on shots inside the arc last season.
Were Walker to find a similar balance, it would decrease his overreliance on threes and make him a far more efficient offensive player going forward. That would be a major improvement considering that he currently has the worst true shooting percentage on the team this season.
What if Lonnie Walker doesn't improve his overall play?
All in all, Lonnie Walker has disappointed this season but still has time to begin to turn things around. While his development has stalled, the potential is there for him to become an above-average offensive player and playmaker. That has yet to materialize however, and he currently doesn’t provide much value to the team given his play.
Without him providing either consistently, he could struggle to find teams interested in offering a significant contract in restricted free agency. That could make it much easier for San Antonio to match any offer and retain him for cheap, assuming they’d want to.
Personally, I believe they will, even if his play doesn’t improve this season. After all, was he able to eventually implement the aforementioned changes to his game, he could be a value on a cheap long-term deal. That would make him a potential future trade candidate or possibly even make Derrick White expendable given his inconsistency, contract, age, and injury history.
Overall, Walker needs to change up his shot selection and focus more on attacking the paint and less on bombing away from three. If he can do that, he could begin to turn his season around.