You know who's having a weird year? The San Antonio Spurs.
Consider this: They're currently 14 games
under .500, yet have a Net Rating that is
positive (plus-0.2) and higher than five teams
currently in the Play-In (Brooklyn, Charlotte, Los Angeles x2, New
You can blame that weird discrepancy on their late-game woes.
Their 9-19 record (.321 win percentage) is the second worst in the
league; they have the worst clutch offense in
basketball (92.1 ORTG), and their average defense (106.9 DRTG,
15th) is offset by being the worst team — by far — at ending possessions (57.9%
(San Antonio's clutch offense was 15 points per 100 possessions
better last season; one might say having a closer like DeMar
DeRozan can be helpful.)
But here the Spurs are, just 1.5 games out of the final Play-In
spot. They have an All-Star in Dejounte Murray, a
massively underrated interior force in Jakob
Poeltl (don't let Ja Morant spoil this for you) and a whole lot
of athleticism around them.
Quietly on the rise is Lonnie Walker IV, a ridiculous athlete
who has both fallen down the young prospect hierarchy, and has been
prone to inconsistency throughout his career. (Murray, Devin
Vassell, Keldon Johnson, Poeltl and rookie Josh Primo seem more
valuable/important to the team moving forward.)
At different points of his career, we've seen transition
brilliance. A silky spot-up jumper. Unique passing flashes.
Aggressive drives. A slick-enough handle to get into an array of
pull-ups or stepbacks. Very, very, very rarely have
seen Walker put these things together, but he's on a bit of a run
He's averaging 20.3 points (.590/.382/.579 shooting splits,
59.0% True Shooting) off the bench over his past six games. His
current streak of six games with 15 or more points is the longest
of his career; heck, his longest streak of double-digit scoring
games is eight, something he accomplished for the first time last
season and has repeated earlier this year.
We can start with the easy stuff. Walker is a devastating
transition weapon. He doesn't run — he glides. And he doesn't jump
— he opts to activate his jetpack instead. He's generated a
preposterous 1.46 points per possession in transition over his last
six games, per the good folks at InStat.
I'm not sure what you're supposed to do with that.
In the half-court, Walker is doing most of his work in a
secondary role. The Spurs design some looks to get him on the move
— mostly pindowns and staggered screens — since he's a threat to
knock down shots or immediately attack off the catch. He's much
better attacking a tilted defense than he is creating against a set
There has been some growing comfort in pick-and-roll with
Walker. He's been trusted to attack with drag screens in
semi-transition, and has been the second (or third) option in San
Antonio's set pieces. He's finding pockets to pull-up when faced
with drop coverage, a boring-yet-vital piece to the creation
puzzle. His recent outing against the Memphis Grizzlies was a nice
snapshot of his growth.
But even when he's playing off of Murray or others, he keeps
light on his feet, constantly looking for space to fill. He roams
around the perimeter to stay in a driver's line of sight; he's made
42.0% of his relocation threes during this stretch, per Second
Spectrum tracking. Pay too much attention to the main action, and
he'll cut to the rim for easy ones.
Walker is at his most dangerous when he gets downhill. His
forays to the basket are up
during this stretch, and he's converting nearly 67% of his shots
What I've enjoyed are the passing flashes. There isn't real
manipulation at play right now, but that's fine. What
he is doing, however, is leveraging his driving
chops to make easy reads to others. The video comp below will
mostly feature missed shots — that'll affect the assist rate, some
of his pick-and-roll metrics, all that good stuff — but you'll see
where things are starting to come together for him.
It probably isn't reasonable to expect Walker to be a 20-point
guy the rest of the way. But the pathway to him being an effective
option — transition buckets, attacking off screens, secondary
ball-screens against drop coverage — is evident and realistic.
I'd keep an eye out for Walker moving forward. He didn't receive
a contract extension before the season, setting him up to become a
restricted free agent this summer... unless the Spurs — armed with
the aforementioned guards, plus Romeo Langford (and Josh
Richardson) — decide there's no room for him.
Walker is an interesting second-contract gamble that teams
should be interested in making.