The next installment of the prospect breakdown series is here, this time we take a look at Miami Hurricanes shooting guard Lonnie Walker IV. His mix of athleticism and shooting ability makes him an interesting option with the tenth pick in the first round. The Sixers are going to be in need of spark plugs that can come in and score quick buckets; Walker could become that player.
The freshman from the University of Miami wasn’t one of the most talked about freshman going into the year, but by the end he was in the discussion to go in the draft lottery because of his play. His numbers don’t necessarily reflect the kind of effect he has on a game, but once he gets going he can shoulder the load of an offense.
What most concerns me about Walker is that he looked too content with holding the ball, using his handles to try and create separation, and shooting a three pointer rather than using his explosiveness to try to get to the lane and finish at the rim. Averaging 10 shots per game, both his three point shots and two point shots were an even 5 shots each per game. Walker has the speed to get open closer to the net, which showed in his 48% shooting from inside the arc. However, when he settled for a three point shot, he connected at just 34%. His three point shot isn’t terrible; if he would drive more often, defenses would have to worry about his speed and back off, giving him more space when shooting from distance.
Another part of Walker’s game that could improve if he becomes a stronger driver is his free throw numbers. His 2 FTA per game show that Walker isn’t using his athleticism to his full advantage. Walker needs to be more aggressive, giving defenses no choice but to foul as he blows past his defender.
His 11.5 points per game don’t really show what he does on the offensive side of the court, he is a threat that defenses have to account for that often gives his teammates extra opportunities.
In just this clip you can see what makes Lonnie Walker so special. In the last few seconds, with his team down, he is able to drive to the lane and use his athleticism and long wingspan to get an acrobatic shot over his defender and send the game to overtime. The more coaches are able to work with Walker on getting to the second level of a defense as a professional, the better chance he has at carving out more than just a three point shooter role. His scoring numbers don’t indicate the type of player Walker can eventually become, he has the talent to be much better at the next level of competition.
Here is another clutch shot from the freshman, hitting the game winning three pointer against Boston College. The reason I don’t put a ton of stock into Walker’s stats are because numbers don’t truly show everything. In this instance he is able to create separation using his ball handling skills and rise up for a three pointer. Even with a man closing in on him his shot looks unfazed. His ball handling abilities would be a welcome addition to a Sixers team that relied much too often on shooters that couldn’t get their own shots.
Outside of scoring, Walker doesn’t have the numbers in other areas to show exactly what he can bring to the table besides being a scorer. Shooting guards don’t often need to come inside to grab rebounds, but with Walker’s ability to fight on the inside it is surprising to see him only average 2.6 per game. Along with his 1.9 assists per game, Walker will need to learn how to become more of an all around guard rather than just a scorer to elevate his game.
When Miami needed Walker the most, the freshman delivered. After a foot injury to star guard Bruce Brown someone needed to pick up the slack, and it was Walker whose usage went through the roof. In 13 games without Brown, Walker become the Hurricanes star. Playing in 34 minutes per game, his stats rose to 13.5 PPG, 2 RPG, and 2.8 APG, while starting every one of those 13 games. The statistical increase isn’t much, but it shows Walker took more control of the team when needed.
At the next level Walker can become a player that brings a spark to an offense, scoring in bunches will allow star players to take a backseat or get some rest when needed. When he shows off his aggressiveness, Walker is a scorer at all three levels, if NBA coaches can unlock that aggressiveness all the time then he can become a nice complementary scorer.
Defensively, there really is nothing special about Lonnie Walker. His 6’4” height makes him pretty much locked in to guarding only guards and the occasional small ball small forward. One thing that does help him on the defensive side of the ball is his 6’10” wingspan. Long arms allow him to disrupt passing routes and contest jumpers more frequently, as shown by him averaging 1 steal per game in his only season at Miami. Couple his wingspan with his solid frame and quick bottom half and you have a defender that should be able to take his opponent out of their comfort zone. Unable to beat him to the basket frequently, shooters will have to either pass out or take a contested jump shot against Walker. The Sixers should be glad to have after seeing the defensive breakdowns of the shooting guards on the roster this year. Walker seemed to be warming up as the season came to a close, really starting to trust himself after rehabbing from a meniscus injury, so with more time we may see a more confident Walker at the next level on both sides of the court.
Lonnie Walker is the type of depth the Sixers sorely missed in the playoffs. In order for the team to be a real threat they are going to needs players who can come in and make a difference, or at the very least keep the game even while starters rest for a few minutes.
Walker is still growing both his game and his body, but with time he can become a spark plug, one that is hopefully more consistent. If his shot can find that consistency that came at the end of the college season and his physical tools stick on the defensive end at the professional level, then Walker has the look of a bench shooting guard who fills the “3 and D” role.
Too often this past season the Sixers had guards who could play either role but not both, the hope with Walker is he can blend these skills and play vital minutes down the stretch.
Lonnie Walker IV will be a name thrown around for the Sixers to pick with the 10th selection. While Walker wouldn’t be the worst pick, I believe there are going to be some better options that are closer to being finished products. I would feel much more confident in selecting a player like Mikal Bridges or Kevin Knox, and at the end of the day I believe the Sixers will end up with one of them, so because of that I see Walker getting drafted just outside of the lottery, going to the Milwaukee Bucks with the 17th pick in the first round. If Walker is selected by Philadelphia it will be a homecoming of sorts, as the Reading, Pennsylvania native will play basketball in his home state. Walker has the upside to become a much better professional than he was a college player, which is enticing for a lot of teams. The Sixers need to find a way to become a more well rounded, deeper team this offseason. Selecting Walker could be the first step in doing that, but they need to understand he may not be as close to being that well rounded player as some other prospects are. Walker will need some time, but if given it, he has a good chance at being a difference maker off of the bench.