Shame on me. Shame on me for writing an entire piece dedicated to uncovering Lonnie Walker’s ceiling and not sniffing out his passing ability. Fortunately, I spoke to my local basketball priest and he said that my penance is to simply watch more Spurs games. I’ve never felt more spiritual in my life.
Dating back to his college days at The U, Walker is hardly known for his passing chops. Averaging fewer than two assists per game despite logging 28 high-usage minutes per night is far from stellar. His first year in the G-League was more of the same, and in limited action this year, his facilitating numbers didn’t wow anyone either.
This makes his advancement as a passer all the more exciting. Once regarded as an uber-athletic microwave scorer, Walker might be forcing Spurs management to alter their projection for him. Prior to entering the bubble, Lonnie only recorded four or more assists in two contests. He nailed that mark in his first game back in Orlando.
Sure, a four assist game won’t exactly mesmerize everyone. But it’s how Walker is serving up these dimes that should impress fans and critics alike. With speed being one of his greatest attributes, Walker (more like Runner, amirite) often causes defenses to collapse on him.
Damien Bartonek of Fansided’s Air Alamo chimed in with his thoughts on the matter.
“I think his overall improvement/progression is noticeable most in the halfcourt when he’s driving/attacking. He’s looking to attack the basket, looking to score, using his athletic ability to get a bucket. Before he was very passive, very uncomfortable and unconfident.”
The video below demonstrates the sentiments echoed by both Bartonek and myself. Jaren Jackson Jr knows Walker will blow past him and calls for help in advance. Unfortunately, it came too late.
Walker is at his best when he’s catching a defender flat-footed. The arrival of his 3-point shot—he’s shooting 45.2 percent over his last ten outings—has forced opponents to close out on him. Walker has begun to sense and attack those closeouts. Instead of solely looking to score, however, he is learning when to distribute to others. This suggests the game is becoming slower for Walker.
Upon first glance, it seems like Walker is prone to getting caught in the air. (If I listen closely, my old AAU coach is somewhere uttering, “don’t jump, idiot!”) But Walker is manipulating help defenders with his athleticism; that he hangs in the air before what appears to be a predetermined kickout is a sign of positive growth. Either challenge Lonnie at the rim and leave a shooter open or prepare to be turned into a YouTube highlight.
Does San Antonio use Walker often as a distributor? Not really. They rely more on guys like Derrick White, Dejounte Murray and Patty Mills. Bartonek offers his Spurs insight once more:
“…outside of a swing pass he/Pop doesn’t give him opportunities to pass off of drive-and-kick situations/pick-and-roll. But his feel for the game has improved immensely.”
Should this change going forward? When running with starters, Walker could be best suited as a slasher who can also drive and kick when he opts out of triples. Do not be surprised, however, if Walker eventually takes on a role in the second unit that tasks him with more playmaking.