Lonnie Walker IV is one of the most intriguing members of the 2018 draft class and possibly one of the hardest to project. He had an inconsistent freshman season at Miami but also has a tantalizingly deep bag of tricks that are coveted in shooting guard prospects.
Biggest question mark: Does he have the mentality to utilize all his tools and put it all together?
The biggest issue in Lonnie Walker’s game is his general approach. Despite having every skill you could want a shooting guard to have, he finished his freshman season averaging just 11.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game with 41.5/34.6/73.8 shooting splits. The production didn’t match the tools. His tankathon.com page charted his statistical strengths and weaknesses, and they’re not pretty.
Even two of his listed strengths, turnovers and foul rate, are indicators of his passive nature on both ends of the floor. He tends to float.
He frequently settles for tough jump shots on offense, even if opportunities to attack the basket present themselves. Once he’s decided that he wants to score, he tends to get tunnel vision. However, those instances of aggression don’t happen as often as expected for someone of Walker’s talent. Too many of his offensive possessions are a simple catch, wait, and swing without even looking at the basket or surveying options inside the arc. Off ball he drifts from perimeter spot to perimeter spot without making many decisive attempts to get open or aggressive cuts to the basket.
He has a tendency to fall asleep when off the ball on defense, especially when guarding spot up shooters. He gets caught ball watching and gets himself out of position making half-hearted swipes at ball handlers, allowing his cover to sneak away for open looks. At times in transition he can be slow to react and get out to shooters filling in the corners.
What he brings to the table: athleticism, on ball defense, outside shooting ability, potential
Despite his inconsistencies, Walker is still an intriguing prospect due to all of the tools he has at his disposal. He has an impressive 6’10.25” wingspan against his 6’4.5” height in shoes. He hit 40” on his max vertical leap and finished with the third fastest time in both the shuttle run and the 3⁄4 court sprint.
His athleticism regularly manifests itself in game action. He has great feet on defense, allowing him to stick with guards both running through screens off the ball and when handling the ball. He has the reach and athleticism to make impressive help side blocks and get into the passing lanes for deflections. When locked in, he looks every bit the part of a plus NBA defender. On offense can throw down some vicious dunks if he gets a lane to the basket. When he attacks with the ball, he shows glimpses of acrobatic ambidextrous finishing ability.
Even though he shot just 34.6% from three as a freshman, the former Hurricane has the potential to be a knockdown shooter at the NBA level. His form is fluid and compact and he has no issues shooting from NBA range. Much of his shooting woes at the college level can be attributed to shot selection; too many of his attempts were heavily contested, but the foundation is there. He showed the ability to make shots both in spot up situations and off the dribble even if the consistency wasn’t always there.
He’s an adequate ball handler that has enough ability to beat defenders in isolation situations. While he tends to get tunnel vision when moving towards the basket in half court sets, he has a generally unselfish disposition. He makes the extra pass to open shooters and gives the ball up in transition to open runners.
Miami head coach Jim Larranaga turned to Walker in big moments down the stretch of several games last season. Walker sent a game against Louisville into overtime with this spectacular finish in the final seconds. He completed the Hurricanes comeback win over Boston College with this game winning step back three. He flashed a little bit of everything during his lone collegiate season.
Does he fit with the Hornets?
The Hornets should always be in the market for perimeter players that can guard their position and knock down shots. Walker has the potential to do both. If the Hornets feel his production was hampered by his environment in Miami or apprehension over the offseason knee surgery he underwent prior to his freshman season, they could justify rolling the dice on him. Assuming the Hornets plan on playing Nic Batum exclusively at the 3 next season, Walker would slide in behind Jeremy Lamb as the backup shooting guard and could eventually replace Lamb if he develops and Lamb leaves at the expiry of his contract.
He’s likely one of the biggest boom or bust prospects available in the range of the Hornets pick. The dichotomy between his tools and his production are reminiscent of Ben McLemore coming out of Kansas, who is yet to prove himself as anything more than a rotational piece on a bad team. However, the tools he possesses aren’t dissimilar to Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell’s coming out of Louisville. Determining where Walker projects to fall on that spectrum promises be one of the toughest challenges for NBA decision makers as the draft approaches.