Name: Lonnie Walker IV
College: University of Miami
Position: Shooting Guard
Dimensions: 6’4.5” tall with a 6’10.25” wingspan, weighs 196.2 pounds
Stats: 11.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.9 steals, and 1.2 turnovers in 27.8 minutes per game. Shot 41.5% from the field, 34.6% from three (5.1 attempts), and 73.8% from the free throw line (2 attempts).
For a player who didn’t actually shoot all that well in college, Walker has a clean, repeatable, easy stroke from distance. Much of his projection as an NBA player assumes that stroke combined with NBA teammates and spacing will lead to a well above-average three-point shooter. Lonnie hit from NBA range fairly frequently in college (though not Stephen Curry or Damian Lillard type range), so that transition shouldn’t be all that difficult. He also flashed the ability to hit threes off the dribble, a very useful talent that could really take his game to the next level if it becomes a consistent weapon.
Lonnie’s dimensions make him an ideal size for a shooting guard, with a wingspan that should enable him to guard players somewhat larger than him as well. When he’s focused on the defensive end, he looks fantastic, using his wingspan and quickness to stay in front of players and contest their shots. If he grows a little bit more (possible) and adds some strength, he should be able to guard positions 1-3 on a fairly consistent basis. While Walker might not become prime Tony Allen, his best-case outcome defensively is as a near-lockdown defensive player who can be useful guarding a wide variety of players. A defender like that who can also hit threes off the dribble would be of tremendous value to any NBA team.
While Walker is quick laterally, his true athletic abilities can be seen in transition and around the rim. Walker is incredibly fast (3.06 seconds on his three-quarter court sprint, third in this class), and an explosive leaper (40 inch max vertical). He doesn’t always use that athleticism in-game as much as he might, but he can viciously finish at the rim over defenders. That level of athleticism isn’t seen every day, and presents Walker as a player brimming with upside, someone who can do incredible things athletically on the court.
Lonnie seems to be a smart, hard-working guy, and he was already somewhat of a leader at Miami despite being a freshman playing with talented veterans. Intangibles are certainly in his favor, and that’s no small positive.
The last four paragraphs seem to describe Walker as a future NBA superstar, one of the best prospects in the draft. Unfortunately, he just didn’t play up to his talent in his one season of college basketball. Walker was an inefficient scorer at Miami, and the reasons behind that inefficiency could continue to plague him at the NBA level. While Lonnie can unleash a vast array of finishes around the hoop, twisting and contorting his body to evade defenders, he was forced to do so because he couldn’t finish through defensive players. Such an incredible athlete should have drawn more than two free throws per game, but Walker didn’t welcome contact at the rim, probably because he didn’t think he could finish strong through it. So really, those flashy layups hide a player who just didn’t finish all that well in college (and oh boy does finishing get harder in the NBA). Walker needs to get stronger, but also must be smarter about when to go strong, when to utilize a runner (his is particularly poor), and when to dish to a teammate.
Walker’s low free throw rate is also a direct culprit of his rudimentary handles and shaky decision-making. He couldn’t consistently get to the rim despite his quick first step because he lacked the ball-handling skills to break down defenders one on one. That also led to a lot of pointless dribbling behind the three-point arc, frequently culminating in poor stepback threes or contested midrange jumpers rather than moving the ball to someone else for a better shot. Those horrible attempts are reflected in his below average shooting percentages and explain why a player whose shot looks so good didn’t often shoot very well. Essentially, his decision-making as a whole on offense needs tons of work, and there’s a possibility it never corrects to the positive end of the spectrum.
Defensively, Walker sometimes lost focus, and his team defense therefore wasn’t stellar. That is something that a lot of college players struggle with, however, so it’s not a huge worry. The bigger concern is that Walker didn’t really seem to do all that much besides score for Miami. He had horribly low rebounding numbers (especially for someone his size with his leaping ability) and failed to generate all that many assists for teammates. The rebounding in particular is a worry, as it’s an indicator his basketball instincts might not be at a super high level. Wings who can’t provide other things when their shots aren’t falling can be low floor NBA players, and that’s a concern for Walker’s NBA prospects.
Fit with Clippers:
Lonnie is at once a good and bad fit with the Clippers as they stand heading into the summer of 2018. On one hand, they’ve been looking for size/length on the wing for years, and Walker would provide some of that. He also projects as a good shooter, and the Clippers’ biggest issue on offense last year was their inconsistent shooting past Tobias Harris, Lou Williams, and Austin Rivers. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Clippers and Jerry West are looking for the next star Clippers’ player who could lead them to the playoffs. Lonnie Walker could be that guy.
On the other hand… if Milos Teodosic and Austin Rivers opt into their player options, the Clippers will have seven players under contract who play at the guard positions, and that’s not even counting Tyrone Wallace and Avery Bradley. The Clippers should (and will, I hope) draft the best player available, but having so many players on the roster who play the same positions would complicate matters next season. While Walker is bigger and longer than most of the Clippers’ guards, he’s not a true wing, and that’s where the Clippers need the most help. Even outside the roster/rotation crunch, there’s a chance Walker is an inconsistent defensive player and streaky shooter. The Clippers’ roster is chock full of those guys, and they really don’t need more.
In terms of scheme, Walker should fit well defensively with Doc, who got strong results from similarly lengthy rookie wings last season in Tyrone Wallace and Sindarius Thornwell. The offensive fit is somewhat worse. The Clippers’ offense this past season, which was fantastic even with constant injuries and a lack of high-end talent, worked mostly as a free-flowing system that involved ball movement and little isolation play and over-dribbling. Walker, at least in college, did not make quick decisions with the ball, a big no-no in Doc’s offense. The only player who consistently had leeway to hold the ball for long stretches was Lou Williams, and rookie Lonnie Walker is certainly no Sweet Lou.
The biggest plus for Lonnie on the Clippers might be his intangibles. Jerry West has emphasized over and over that the Clippers are looking for serious, competitive basketball players, and that describes Walker to a tee. He will work hard, he will show up to play, and he will fight to win games. In that sense, he’s a great fit with the identity the Clippers built last season.
Lonnie Walker is one of the biggest boom-or-bust prospects in this draft class. His highest realistic outcome is a borderline All-Defense level player who can guard multiple positions, create some offense off the dribble, hit open threes at a very high rate, and does enough other things to be a useful player when his shot is off. That sounds a lot like a smaller Paul George, a perennial All Star. There’s also the possibility of a much sadder result, a player who doesn’t understand his limitations and insists on taking difficult shots without the ability to make them, and is too inconsistent on defense to be considered above average on that end. That player resembles a worse shooting Nick Young, which would make him a fringe NBA player who hangs around due to athleticism and flashes of brilliance.
The likelihood is that Walker ends up somewhere in the middle. Maybe he remains a streaky shooter but works enough on handles and passing to become more of a combo guard who can man point guard at times. Or perhaps the rest of his game doesn’t develop, so he ends up a pure “3 and D” guard like Danny Green. Walker could be end up being any one of a number of player archetypes, and that makes him one of the more intriguing players in the draft. If the Clippers select him with one of their picks, they could end up looking amazingly smart or unbelievably foolish. He’s a gamble—the question is whether he’s a worthwhile one. And honestly, I don’t have the answer.