Lonnie Walker IV is one of the most exciting prospects the San Antonio Spurs have had in recent years. Taken with the 18th pick of the 2018 NBA Draft, he was the highest selection for the Spurs since San Antonio traded for Kawhi Leonard. A potential lottery pick by many mock drafts, Spurs fans had plenty of reasons to be elated with the up-and-coming swingman.
However, Walker’s playing time has been scarce since being drafted by the Spurs. It was understandable last season because head coach Gregg Popovich tends to bring rookies along slowly, often having them spend most of their time in the G League.
But in a season where the losses have been piling up, many Spurs fans have been clamoring for Walker to play consistent minutes. After his explosive 28-point performance against the Houston Rockets, fans may finally be getting their wish.
Feed The Hot Hand
Lonnie Walker IV has been putting up some impressive numbers in his limited playing time. In the eight appearances he has made in the team’s last ten games, Walker is averaging 7.3 points on 53.3% shooting from the floor. These numbers may not seem eye popping at first, but Walker is doing it in just 10.8 minutes per game.
When looking at his per-36 numbers, we can see just how much growth Walker has shown between this season and rookie campaign.
Walker’s scoring rate has increased by more than 43%. He is also shooting much better this season, as he’s hitting 45.6% of his shots from the floor, compared to just 34.8% last year. He is also shooting 42.9% from downtown this season, which is a nice uptick from the 38.5% he shot during his rookie year.
The Spurs had a furious rally against the Rockets, wiping away a 22-point deficit to prevail with a 135-133 victory in double overtime. A lot of that credit rightfully goes to Walker. He had 19 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, as well as the go-ahead three-pointer to begin the first overtime.
Walker stood out against the Rockets when he attacked the rim without hesitation, especially because these Spurs are often most comfortable settling for the jumper. Walker forcing the action by being aggressive and making the defense react gives the Spurs an extra dimension. It’s a trait that their usual lineups often lack.
Walker’s shooting chart for the month of December shows that he has only taken four shots from midrange out of the 30 attempts. Everything else was either in the paint or a shot from downtown — a refreshing change from the prominent scorers on the Spurs who prefer to shoot from the midrange.
Here we see Jakob Poeltl set a pick for Derrick White and then roll hard to the rim. White then gives the ball to Walker.
As soon as Walker receives the ball, he sees the opening and goes straight to the rim. Poeltl deserves credit for shielding James Harden away from Walker so he can have the easy layup. The Rockets are a poor defensive team, but having a player like Walker who can exploit them with his athleticism is a huge boost.
In this next play we have Bryn Forbes sending the outlet pass to Patty Mills. Walker is right under the rim until Mills drives into the paint.
Most players would have hung around the paint area waiting to crash the boards or hoping for a pass. That only would have clogged the paint for Mills. Instead, Walker wisely shuffles back to the three-point line and takes his time draining the shot.
His confidence when the game was on the line was impressive. For a team that has struggled in clutch situations, it was nice to see Walker shoot without fear when the pressure was on.
Lonnie Walker IV’s Defensive Prowess
While Walker’s offensive game will generate the most excitement, his tools defensively are also worthy of note. He currently ranks first on the team with a defensive rating of 104. When Walker is on the floor, he holds his opponents to under the league average in field goal percentage from every spot on the floor.
Walker is also able to use his athleticism to wreak havoc on his man.
He is able to shadow Austin Rivers all the way to the rim. While Poeltl holds his ground and keeps his arms up, Walker is able to rise above to swat away Rivers’ shot.
Anytime Walker makes a defensive play, he is off to the races turning defense into offense.
This play began with Walker doing an excellent job of contesting Harden and forcing a very difficult shot. Walker is clever to jump to the side of Harden when challenging the shot instead of straight on; Harden is one of the craftiest players in the league in baiting opponents into cheap fouls. DeRozan gets the rebound and sees Walker already on the other end of the floor. Walker takes it strong to the rim and is rewarded for running the court with the dunk. This gets himself and the team energized, setting the stage for the epic comeback.
Here we see Walker’s instincts for disrupting the play.
Westbrook makes a careless pass and Walker, with eyes in the back of his head, steals it and is off for a thunderous slam in transition. His speed is on full display as is the fact that he only took three dribbles between the three-point line and the rim to make this dunk happen. For a team that is near the bottom of the league in forcing turnovers, Walker’s ability to generate easy baskets off these types of plays is massive.
Don’t Just Play The Man…Start Him
While Lonnie Walker IV didn’t have the best start to the season in Pop’s eyes, his lack of playing time during a disastrous season has been infuriating to many. However, after his latest performance, Pop and the rest of the league certainly took notice.
The Spurs starting lineup has all kinds of issues. Offense, defense, you name it. Walker would fill two needs right off the bat. He would be able to space the floor thanks to his ability to hit the long ball, and he would also be able to play adequate defense. It would make the most sense to have him replace Forbes in the starting lineup.
While seeing Walker start may be a long shot this early in the season, one thing is for sure: The win over the Rockets was more than simply a good win, it could be a symbolic victory that begins a turning point in Walker’s tenure with the Spurs. One small step for the Spurs, one giant step for Lonnie Walker IV.