Lonnie Walker's Breakout Game Has Been a Long Time Coming
Lonnie Walker IV shocked the NBA world on Monday when he came off the bench for the Los Angeles Lakers and led them to victory against the Golden State Warriors. Walker dropped 15 points, all in the fourth quarter, as the Lakers won 104-101 to take a 3-1 lead in their Western Conference Semifinal series. Here's the thing, the 24-year-old's breakout shouldn't be that shocking.
Walker hasn't done much in these playoffs. He only played 16 minutes in the entire first round for the Lakers against the Memphis Grizzlies. His minutes and opportunities have been dwindling since mid-March. But in the last two games against the Warriors he's gotten 24 and 27 minutes respectively, and has made the most of them.
In LA's 127-97 blowout win in Game 3, Walker scored 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting for the field and 2-of-4 from deep. He added four rebounds and block and two steals. In Game 4, he had the aforementioned 15 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals, while shooting 6-of-9 from the field and hitting one 3-pointer. This is what he's capable of.
Walker had a solid season for the Lakers. In 56 games (32 starts) he averaged 11.7 points and shot 36.5 percent from deep. His field goal percentage of 44.8 was a career-high. It's easy to forget the 24-year-old was a prospect with a ton of helium heading into the 2018 NBA Draft. A one-and-done guy for Miami, Walker's shooting, defense and quickness had the former five-star recruit flying up draft boards. The San Antonio Spurs landed him at No. 18 but, as happens with a lot of one-and-dones, Walker struggled to adjust to the league.
He spent time in the G-League during as a rookie and only saw action in 17 games. He found a spot in the Spurs' rotation during the 2019-20 season, but didn't quite hit on all cylinders. In 61 games (12 starts) he only averaged 6.4 points per game. Things began to click in his third season when he averaged 11.2 points in 60 games (38 starts). But while his scoring numbers went up during his fourth season (12.1 points per game), his 3-point shooting dropped off a cliff. He only shot 31.4 percent from beyond the arc and the Spurs were ready to move on.
The Lakers snapped Walker up on a one-year, $6.479 million contract last offseason. He fits the mold of the exact type of player LeBron James and Anthony Davis need around them. He's an excellent, opportunistic defender and he can hit shots and spread the floor. It's an excellent fit.
Talent has never been an issue for Walker, he just needs consistent playing time and room to grow. On Monday night, he showed what he's capable of and what so many saw when he was coming out of high school and college. He has the talent to take over a game in crunch time and he showed that in Game 4, as he attacked Stephen Curry repeatedly.
Am I suggesting that Walker is now a top-level NBA closer? Of course not. But he is far too good to only get 16 minutes in an entire playoff series. He's a great role player who can get buckets and defend. His breakout game has been on the horizon for a long time, he just needed the opportunity.