What Lonnie needs to do to get to the next level
If Lonnie Walker wants to start next season, he’ll have to show a lot of maturity during training camp. As currently constructed, Murray and White will likely assume the Spurs’ starting guard spots with Keldon Johnson favored to start at small forward. Walker’s wingspan and athleticism make him capable of playing the three, but he’s a more natural fit in White’s shooting guard slot.
Instead, it’s more likely that Walker assumes the Manu Ginobili role for San Antonio, which I’ve envisioned for him over several years now. Walker can lead the second unit as a primary ball-handler and scoring option who will play alongside starters for significant segments of each game. Whereas the starters will more likely rely on ball movement and pick-and-roll sets to generate scoring opportunities, Walker will use his dynamic downhill attack to draw defenders in and kick the ball out — Just as DeRozan did for the silver and black.
Beyond the drive-and-kick, Walker’s going to torch second units with a flurry of dribble-penetration moves, pull-up jumpers, and catch-and-shoot triples. If he performs up to par, Walker has an opportunity to sneak into the starting lineup and bring that offensive playmaking to the first five up.
There are still a few hangups in Walker’s game, but nothing insurmountable. If Lonnie wants to be the Spurs' offensive engine, he needs to cut some of his acrobatics and focus on finishing at the rim. At times, Walker's flashy finishing gets in the way of his ability to convert field goal attempts, which tanks his efficiency. In certain moments, those flashy acrobatics are the best way to secure a bucket, but not every time down the lane. Walker needs to do a better job of recognizing when those moments present themselves instead of chasing them unnecessarily.
Increasing Walker's efficiency at the basket is essential to his growth. Whether that means going for a dunk over a finger-roll or drawing contact instead of avoiding it is dependent on the situation, but it’s up to him to read what defenses are giving him. It’s one thing to have an array of skills, but it takes another level of self-awareness to make use of those abilities based on in-game reads.
That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Walker led the San Antonio Spurs in scoring next season. He has natural talent and the drive to become one of the game’s next top scorers because of his diverse skill-set; which is catered wonderfully to current trends of the sport.
For two seasons now, we’ve seen what Walker looks like as a role player. If everything plays out how I believe it can, Walker will prove that he’s much more than the spot-up shooter and secondary playmaker he's shown to be under DeRozan's shadow in San Antonio.