That noise you just heard? That was me pushing my chips on the table and making a huge bet. Yup, I am all in on Lonnie Walker IV on being the next great San Antonio Spur. In fact, he could end up squeezing his way into the Spur’s Mt. Rushmore of players.
Before you scream “WHAT ABOUT GINOBILI? OR PARKER?!” give me a chance to explain. Of course, those guys are Hall of Famers in their own rights, and deservedly occupy a place in Spur’s lore alongside Gervin, The Admiral, Duncan and others (I’ll leave Kawhi out of this, the wound is still too sensitive.) So, why am I so high on Walker?
I am going to show you a handful of videos which will delineate why he has every tool Gregg Popovich desires in a prospect.
Before I mesmerize you with clips of Walker draining both off-ball and on-ball triples, or footage of him manipulating the pick and roll, I’ll give you a tour of his skillset. Fortunately, I covered Walker extensively for this site during the draft days. You can see his whole profile here. For now, indulge me by perusing my 2-minutes-or-less scouting report on him.
We know the physical measurements. Walker stands at 6’4″ with a 6’10.5″ wingspan and owns a muscular frame which should only get stronger. His hops were among the best in his draft class. His feet are agile to hang with speedy guards. Walker has the strength and length to protect the rim as a guard, something which is en vogue in today’s game. Phew, the athletic skill set is covered. Now, onto his talent.
In college, Walker flashed a little bit of everything. Can he shoot stepback 3-pointers? Yes. Can he sidestep for triples ala J.R Smith? Yup. Can he shoot off the catch? You betcha. Pick and roll potential? Sure. Does he have court vision? Another yes.
Defensively, Walker has shown potential as well. This past NBA Summer League he blocked Caleb Swanigan like it was a routine play. He uses his wingspan to poke away balls for steals and has instincts that look to be more than promising. Walker could guard three positions on the court and evolve into a plus defender.
Like all players, Walker has weaknesses. Perhaps “concerns” is a better word. Walker has a tendency to stop the ball and despite having underrated vision, he perpetually looks to score before anything else. Can these habits be worked out? I think so. Plus, his pick and roll game revolves around him scoring the ball, and he needs to work on the facilitating aspect in that area.
Okay. Done. The 2-minutes-or-less scouting report is done.
We can now get to the juicy stuff. No one likes staring at words all day. So, I will provide some video evidence to prove Walker has superstar potential. Furthermore, I will demonstrate how his pliability as a player makes him the ultimate model Spur.
Evidence # 1 – Spacing Potential
Do you want to know the brilliance of Coach Pop’s offensive philosophy? In actuality, the man simply may not even have one. He seems to always adapt to the personnel on hand. For instance, The Spurs used to be champions of pace and space, especially when they battled the Miami Heat in recent NBA Finals. Last season, Pop stuck to his midrange guns in order to maximize and revitalize the talent of star player LaMarcus Aldridge.
The question remains, however: How will Walker fit into a system of Pop’s choosing?
Next season, Pop will most likely continue to emphasize the midrange game. After all, he just added midrange specialist and Kobe Bryant imitator DeMar DeRozan. Still, if you were to think that this means floor spacing will no longer be at a premium, you would be wrong. We need to look no further than Danny Green for proof.
In the last two seasons, Green, who plays the same position as Walker, took 62.5 percent of his shots from behind the arc. Compare that to Trevor Ariza, who took around 70 percent of his shots from deep last year as he played for the triples-hoisting Houston Rockets. Can Walker keep this pace?
The numbers indicate he can. Walker took 50.9 percent of his shots from deep. This rate doesn’t match Green’s exactly, but it is trending in the right direction. That is quite a large number of threes to take for a college hoops player. Yet, look at the film. It will show you his potential to be an off-ball floor spacer.
Below, Walker uses an off-ball screen to get open for a triple. Everything he does here is textbook. His footwork is excellent, his elevation is perfect, and he releases the ball precisely where he should.
Need more evidence. Click below and watch Walker drain catch and shoot bombs for about 45 seconds.
The Spurs will always rely on wing floor spacers, and Walker can slide right into that role. However, what if they want someone who can create their own shot?
Evidence #2 – Pick and Roll Scorer
While watching this year’s Summer League, I was impressed by Walker’s ability to score out of the pick and roll. Yes, he has not shown too much passing ability as a ball handler, but if Kawhi Leonard can get there, so can Walker. Let us not forget that the most important part of the game is putting that round thing inside of the other round thing.
The Spurs rely on the pick and roll just as much as any other team. It opens up various parts of their game. Sure, they also can deploy incredible ball-moving sequences, but the PnR game is still alive in San Antonio. Walker has shown immense talent in one aspect of it: scoring.
With Pops current offensive scheme, he will love Walker’s ability to drain midrange jumpers off of picks. Watch below for further proof.
Walker drags his man right into a behemoth of a big. Once Walker is defended by a bigger, slower player, he realizes he can bury a jumper. The sagging big defending Walker gives him this shot, and he sinks it.
Here, Walker truly impresses. His defender sticks with him and goes over the screen. Walker knows he has a step on him anyways, and decided to pull up on a dime. The rim protector is waving his arms like a dummy. The guard defending Walker contests him, but Walker is not bothered. In fact, he continues to hit the shot while getting fouled.
What frightens me the most about this (I say frighten because I am not a Spurs fan) is picturing Walker doing this in late-game situations. When 3 minutes remain in a game, teams tend to lean on their scorers to take their man off the dribble and simply get a bucket. If Walker can do this routinely, he could develop into a feared closer.
Example #3 – Cutting
When thinking of Spurs basketball, I often envision someone getting a pass from Boris Diaw for an open, backdoor layup. Despite relying on a more compact offensive court, Coach Pop will continue to looks for easy hoops. Walker has off-ball possibilities and athleticism to be the benefactor of this style of play.
When you get a chance, go watch some Walker dunk highlights. I won’t show them here, but I will show you a very Spursian Summer League play.
In this clip, Walker takes advantage of a typical Spurs set. The man with the ball has two floor spacers to his right. On the left side, a player sets a back pick for Walker. The rim protector and switch man is caught sleeping and Walker flies in for a layup. Can you picture LaMarcus Aldridge or adept passer Pau Gasol doing this? I can.
Walker’s offensive instincts in this area are appealing. Keep your eyes on him for this entire play. At points, Miami ran an NBA style horns set, which features shooters in the corners. Walker does not idle. Instead, he waits for the perfect time to cut to the hoop and make a bucket. Pops will utilize Walker’s instincts nicely.
Example #4 – Pick and Roll passing/Vision
This is an area of concern for Walker, but do not worry about it too much. If he wants to see the floor in San Antonio, Walker will need to move the ball more. He is still developing this part of his game, but Walker has shown he possesses the vision necessary to do so.
In the clip below, Walker will use his screen to find an open teammate.
You didn’t see that guy standing in the corner, did you? Neither did I. Walker did, however, and that is all that matters. The next sequence shows more of the same.
Is what Walker doing here overly magnificent? No. But it does show he can see other players on the court and make the right read. Do you want to know the next step in his career? Click here to see Kawhi Leonard show his versatility as a pick and roll passer. If Walker can do that, his ceiling rises exponentially.
Example #5 – Defense/Defensive Instincts
You have to be a special player to get playing time for Coach Pops if you do not play hard defense. Fortunately for Walker, he has the defensive tools to see the court.
Defending the fast break is something which is very hard to do. It does not reveal too much about a player’s overall ability, as these plays do not happen in the half court, obviously. It can, however, demonstrate a player’s instincts.
In a 4 on 2 situation, Walker defends beautifully. I am a proponent of taking a gamble in this situation, and Walker does. It results in a steal as he reads the ball handlers eyes in order to pick off the pass.
In the next clip, Walker looks reminiscent of a former Spurs wing. He uses his length to effortlessly poke away the ball. Active hands are a Spurs staple.
Walker loves to compete on the defensive end of the floor, which is a must for Popovich. In addition to that, Walker has elite defensive tools. His learning curve to NBA defensive schemes will be tough, but it is for most rookies. Regardless, Walker possesses the smarts to come out on top here.
I love this kid.
Remember when Dion Waiters was getting drafted? Or how about Terrence Ross? Scouts were a little weary of these kids, but they said they both had superstar potential. Well folks, Walker has the same potential but comes at less of a risk.
His work ethic is wonderful. The measurables are off the charts for his position. His shooting is where it needs to be and his pick and roll facilitating game has glimpses of hope. Defensively, we could be looking at a plus defender.
It is his flat-out scoring ability which gives him superstar potential, however. How many players in the NBA can hit the shot shown in the gif below?
A one-dribble, stepback going to his right with a defender in his grill? Sign me up.
Lonnie Walker will end up being the steal of this draft. He is Zhaire Smith, but minus the “if he ever develops a consistent jumper” part. He’s Donte Divincenzo with a higher ceiling. Think Mikal Bridges but with an offensive repertoire that extends beyond catch and shoot threes, or a Grayson Allen with better hops and untapped potential.
You’ll forget about Kawhi soon enough, Spurs fans.