It hasn’t always been pretty, but believe it or not the Spurs are winners of three of their last four games — all in overtime — and that has been in no small part thanks to the breakout play of second-year Spur Lonnie Walker IV.
After biding his time and developing in Austin last season, a strong performance in Summer League had everyone eager to see what he could do against real NBA competition. Despite knowing he would need to earn minutes away from the more trusted veterans on the roster, he had to endure some tough love from Gregg Popovich after his effort early on was not up to standards.
However, instead of folding to the pressure, Walker used it as motivation to be better when his time came, which ended up being when the calendar turned from November to December and the Spurs looking lifeless, struggling their way to a 7-13 record. With no solution in sight, Pop finally threw Walker in as the Spurs had fallen to 22 points behind the Rockets, and he has been on a tear ever since, averaging 14 points on 55.6% shooting, including 50% from three on 2.5 attempts per game.
He brings more than just youth and athleticism to the Spurs. Some of this is simply the eye test, but the game seems to change for the better when he enters and for the worse when he exits. His energy is contagious not only to his teammates, but the crowd as well. His pension for getting out in transition provides them with some much-needed easy buckets, he’s not afraid to pull up from three, and his ability to drive and finish around the rim is just as awe-inspiring as it is useful.
Perhaps the biggest factor allowing him to stay on the floor more is the effort is there on defense. For the most part, he’s staying in front of his man, contesting shots, is rarely caught with his arms down, and is doing a decent job of not biting on pump fakes. (This was especially noticeable in his time guarding James Harden.) Another factor that could be boosting his play is Pop appears to have given him a longer leash and more freedom to be himself. Not having to fear making mistakes can often loosen a player up and result in better play.
DeMar also noted that he senses Lonnie isn't afraid to make mistakes any more. "Lonnie is just going out there and playing without thinking," DeRozan said.— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) December 15, 2019
Like all young players, Walker still has a ways to go, and he won’t be perfect every night, but the reality is he’s bringing another dimension of play that this Spurs squad desperately needs. If he can keep this up and permanently insert himself into the rotation, it could not only pay off this season, but for the future of the organization as well.