What is Lonnie Walker’s Ceiling?

By Matt Esposito

Originally asked by VP of Basketball Operations for A.N.D Sports Entertainment, Richard Anselmo, this delectable morsel of a question was a blast to try and answer. Despite slipping out of it, Lonnie Walker came into the NBA as a lottery level talent. His athleticism, shot-creating package and measurables were evident. Yet, Walker has not totally exploded for San Antonio yet, leaving us to wonder what his ceiling could be.

Not only does Walker have the skills to become a stud, he has an outside chance of becoming the most famous Lonnie ever. The rapper Common currently holds down the top spot but it may not be for long, especially if Lonnie the hooper can take advantage of some of the gifts he came into the league with. So, what are those gifts anyway?

Let’s start with the measurables. Not many players his size are blessed with a wingspan that stands just over 6-foot-10 and a 40 inch vertical leap. Plus, he seems to have fully recovered from a right knee meniscus tear suffered during his rookie campaign. Not sold? Modern medicine and rehab practices don’t do it for ya? Check out this slam from Walker as he discards the Knicks more than their own fans do. When in Rome though, right?

To categorize Walker as merely an energetic, bouncy wing would be selling him short. Dating back to college conference play, Walker nailed 36.1 percent of his triples on 108 attempts. During his rookie year this number of attempts shrunk to 33 and incidentally, Walker hit them at a 33 percent clip. This year, however, Walker has taken 71 total 3-point attempts and is converting at a 40.8 percent rate. What’s more, he’s in the 97th percentile for above-the-break 3s, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Although Walker more frequently attempts the closer, corner 3-pointer, his better shooting percentage comes when shooting further away. This could very well prove to be an anomaly, hinting that with a larger sample we will see an inversion of these numbers. Yet, the former Hurricane shoots an easy ball by using good balance and a compact stroke. Again, the sample size isn’t very reliable yet but, Walker is still shooting 40 percent on all catch and shoot triples this season.

Let’s get back to Rich’s question: What exactly is Lonnie’s ceiling? Is it high, like the ones in homes that show off an oversized Christmas tree during the holidays? Is it a thiswascoolinthelate80s popcorn ceiling? After all, the league is saturated with long arms who have 3-point capability. If this assessment stopped here, I would predict Walker to be a serviceable, starter level wing and then spend my time thinking about more ceiling types. Yet, LW has a little somethin’ extra to bring to the table.

Walker exhibited eye-catching shot-creation moves while in college. He’s proven adept at sidestepping, stepbacking (I hate how that sounds, ew) and changing pace. Crossovers have been a specialty as well. Ask Gordon Hayward.

Or Bruno Caboclo, who was just two years away before this nasty crossover/stop-and-pop combo, but has since went back to being two years away from being two years away.

I’m not sure which one it is, but one of the Martin twins ended up on the wrong side of a highlight reel. All kidding aside, the way Walker deploys his crossover in order to decelerate is evidence of star potential.

As of now, though, he has only revealed one trick up his sleeve of separation moves: the crossover. A slo-mo video of his shaking Donovan Mitchell shows how Walker combines his handle and quick-twitch athleticism to lose defenders. But, where are those other tricks previously mentioned?

Thank god for college tape and one of my old scouting reports that was dusted off for this piece. The film below shows a high level inside-out dribble, sidestep combo, another crossover stepback, and a game winning stepback against Boston College. Although they may lay dormant until Coach Pop trusts Lonnie enough to break them out, the shot-creation skills are there.

Why doesn’t Pop trust him enough yet? Per Cleaning the Glass, Walker is in the 81st and 66th percentile for short and long midrange shot frequency, respectively. But, he ranks only in the 25th and 54th percentile for finishing those shots. His mechanics look serviceable so Walker may simply need more reps to get those percentages up. Considering San Antonio has zigged when the league has zagged, Walker’s ability to get his own shot in the midrange could be a coveted skill for the Spurs.

Offensively, Walker creates for himself, which raises his ceiling to borderline All-Star. Defensively, he has started to show better competitiveness and effort. After claiming his intention to become a “defensive gnat,” Walker has started to let his physical gifts do the work for him.

When he fights over screens and deploys his length to his advantage, good things happen and it is not difficult to discern why.

Walker’s agility is on full display here. Look at how quickly he covers ground before registering an impressive block.

It is this next block that proves more telling, however. After being caught flat footed and prepping for a screen that was never used, Walker recovered to reject the specimen known as Jaylen Brown. This flash of defensive ability is special.

What’s more, Walker has shown signs that he may be catching up to the speed of the game. He reads this pass to the corner like a pro; a feat not easy for neither young players nor veterans. Perhaps it is no coincidence that when Walker is on the court his team places in 79 percentile for opponent effective field goal percentage.

One of my earliest comparisons for Lonnie Walker was “Good JR Smith,” proving that not only was I feeling particularly assholie when I wrote that but, I might have sold Walker’s ceiling short. One of my other comparisons was Ben Gordon; a former 6th man of the year who hovered on the fence of All-Star play for fiesty Bulls teams. I feel good with that ceiling for Walker, and the Spurs should too.

Published by Matt Esposito

Founder/Writer for Theplaygrounder.com and contributor to Red’s Army Twitter: @Mattesposito_

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