Young Spur Spotlight: Lonnie Walker IV
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Selected with the 18th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Lonnie Walker IV came into the league with high expectations. The 6-foot-5 guard out of Miami recorded a 40-inch vertical at the combine , demonstrating some athleticism that pairs nicely with his quick first-step. Lonnie’s stunning physical abilities, when combined with his shifty iso play style, had many scouts in awe; he appeared to be an ideal 3-and-D player.
Now in the midst of his sophomore season, his career averages of 3.9 points per game and a plus/minus of -5.8 have disappointed San Antonio’s faithful, and forced me to ask the question: has the Spurs’ flawless scouting system finally been brought back down to Earth?
Lonnie Walker’s rookie season was cut short due to a torn meniscus last October. After only playing 17 games during his first year in the league, his game-speed recovery was not aided by Popovich playing him less than nine minutes a night.
With so many guards on San Antonio’s depth chart, Walker is forced to doggedly compete for minutes with the likes of Dejounte Murray, Bryan Forbes, Derrick White, Patty Mills, and Marco Bellineli.
Every young player in this league needs time on the court to grow and evolve. I believe all Walker needs is more minutes to markedly improve upon his career volume and efficiency numbers. In an outing on December 4th versus the Houston Rockets, Coach Pop gave Lonnie his chance; down 22 points against Houston late in the 3rd quarter, Popovich left Lonnie in the game to presumably eat up garbage minutes.
Walker caught fire, and served as the sparkplug behind a gritty Spurs double overtime win. He dumped in 28 second-half points, including a game-tying three from 29 feet out in James Harden’s face. It might have been Walker’s hair blocking Harden's vision of the rim, or his polished man-on man defense, but either way: the former MVP only shot 4/20 from the field. Lonnie had three great defensive stops on Harden, all resulting in buckets.
In the win, Lonnie not only proved to Popovich he needs more minutes, but he also put the whole league on notice. Multiple defensive stops and clutch threes certified his potential to be a solid 3-and-D player in the NBA. Albeit it is just one game, if Walker can torch James Harden in a comeback win, he can do it to anyone in the league.
The win over Houston not only puts my confidence back in Walker, but also answers my question of whether or not San Antonio’s scouting department had a fluke misfire. All Lonnie Walker IV needs is a little more time, and a lot more trust from Coach Pop.
Fully evolved, I do not see Lonnie Walker IV being the number one option on a championship team. His versatility and physical tools bely a basketball IQ that, if developed, could help Walker dominate games on the wing - but not over the prolonged periods of time necessary to be a franchise cornerstone. Rather, I see Sixth Man of the Year potential as the leader of a pummeling bench unit, much like Lou Williams for the Los Angeles Clippers.