In advance of the 2018 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops will be breaking down prospects, both from the college ranks and internationally, with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks will be evaluating in the coming days. More than 50 prospects will be profiled in this space and, in the end, the goal is to inform Hawks fans prior to June 21, when the Hawks are scheduled to make four selections with the first 34 picks.
Today’s edition glances at the work of Miami guard Lonnie Walker.
If you have been following the draft news and evaluations over the last several weeks, you have probably heard at least once the Lonnie Walker comp to last season’s biggest steal in the draft, Donovan Mitchell. And while I generally think that comps tend to do more harm than good within the context of evaluating prospects, I get it. So let’s take a look at a statistical comparison.
I think it’s most useful in this case to compare Walker’s one year to Mitchell’s two years separately .
It is at least interesting to see where Walker’s performance was better than Mitchell’s during his freshman season. And their physical profiles, as measured during the NBA combine, are very similar. Walker measured in at one inch taller than Mitchell and ten pounds lighter. But it must be noted that Walker is nearly two years younger than Mitchell.
I’m certain the narrative we will hear on draft night will be something along the lines of “Will these teams take the risk of passing on the player that could be this year’s Donovan Mitchell?” And they will talk specifically about the Pistons and Luke Kennard and the Hornets and Malik Monk in regards to how the 2017 draft unfolded.
And it’s reasonably likely that a team will draft him before the end of the lottery. But then Walker will go on to not have a rookie of the year type of season, which is going to happen because, as impressive as he is as an athlete and a shooter, he is nowhere near close to being trusted to function with an NBA scheme on either end of the court. And then some observers will prematurely consider him a bust forgetting how much younger he is than Mitchell.
So have some fun with the comp if you want, but do so with the broader considerations in mind.
Walker can get up and down the court and will look better sooner than later if he is drafted by a team that is building to play fast. He was only in the 73rd percentile scoring on transition possessions last season but playing along side players that can handle the speed of the NBA game should serve him in such a way as to do better than that potentially even in his rookie season.
He is one of the better players, if not the best player, in this draft class at being able to create his own shot on the perimeter and at the rim. He plays with quite a bit of tunnel vision when the ball is in hands although he does not necessarily force bad plays with regularity.
On the occasions that he can’t get to his own spot, he is much more likely to just pick up his dribble and look for a safe outlet pass in hopes of avoiding a turnover. He’s displayed little if any ability to read a play in which multiple defenders have to commit to him and open up a pass that could punish the defensive overplay.
His shooting mechanics are extremely efficient. He knows what to do when he is setting up for a shot while the pass is en route to him. And he’s comfortable setting up his own defender to get a step back three point attempt.
His handle looks advanced when he is attacking an individual defender. But is tighter space he is not able to put those tools to use to the same degree.
On this play, you can see how he sets up for the catch and shoot. A baseball hitter that has no wasted movement in his set up and swing is described as having a “very quiet” approach at the plate. It seems that description applies to Walker. The simplicity of his mechanics are encouraging in the sense that his form is already extremely repeatable.
His form is very clean shooting off of the dribble as well. He’s not remotely uncomfortable with the defender working to get a hand in his face. The form is clean, he lands exactly in the same spot from where he jumped which is impressive for a player at the age of 19.
This possession offers a great example of how he is just going through the motions in the more nuanced areas of play but is explosive in his one on one attack. The screen he is supposed to set or sell in the paint is completely lacking purpose. The play is designed for him to really sell that cross screen as to occupy his own defender such that he can get significant separation as he uses the screen available for him at the free throw line.
He gets the switch, although he did not have to work hard to do so. He attacks with dribble penetration and is able to use his length and craft to knock down a runner from an angle that few players can successfully convert.
At the next level, he is going to have to play with significantly more purpose throughout an entire set as to help his team achieve successful offensive possessions.
This play is also very simplistic in terms of how the approaches it. He attacks the heart of the defense and has the confidence in his elite ability to hang in the air until there is space to get off the uncontested shot.
But at the NBA level in this action he is very likely going to have to move the ball to the shooter wide open at the three point line on the back side of the play. On this possession, there is really nothing that indicates that he is even aware of that option.
A little bit of IQ is demonstrated on this transition possession. He recognizes the opportunity to beat the defenders working to get back. He lines up perfectly to create a passing lane for the hit ahead delivery.
Notice he communicates with a subtle clap to let his teammate know he ready for the ball. He attacks the rim with immense confidence in his ability to hang and contort free of the defenders to get the largely uncontested lay up.
On this possession, you can see him put his raw tools to work while also not demonstrating much interest is the purpose of the action. This is technically a high pick and roll but he does not press into the screen to get leverage on the defense.
He is focused on getting space to attack one on one and gets a score from a ridiculous angle thanks to his 6’10 wingspan.
There is more of the same on this play. His big man works pretty hard to screen and then re-screen for him. But he does not use it to get leverage on the defense.
When he runs out of room to operate he just simply hands the ball off to his nearest teammate. Nevertheless, the ball finds it’s way back to him and he uses his raw tools to convert an easy bucket in the paint.
None of this is going to come nearly as easy for him at the NBA level. And from a player development standpoint the team that drafts him will first have to deal with the fact that many plays like this last season had the effect of positively reinforcing what he is doing. From a mental standpoint, there will need to be a bit of a tearing down before that phase of his play can be rebuilt.
But I consider him to be very much worth the effort. In his third and fourth season he very well could end up being the top scorer from this draft class across those seasons.
He plays much the same way on the defensive end of the court as he does on the offensive end. He plays with effort and puts his quickness and length to use defending one on one. He has the physical profile to recover from mistakes, which is another manifestation of positive reinforcement of his current approach.
But if he is willing to be coached hard and wants to commit to becoming the most impactful player he can be, all of the raw tools are there.
He gets a block on this play to secure the win for his team. But a missed opportunity is evident as well. This is a possession that can involve chaos. He recognizes that his his man is trying to get to the corner for a three point attempt.
He is chasing with a sense of urgency. But he misses an opportunity to communicate to his teammate and ask for help in the form the big man stepping into the path of the offensive player. Instead, there is contact between Walker and his teammate that is not helpful. But he gets to the shooter just in time to make the play.
He demonstrates a more proactive approach and recognition of the broader activity on this play very late in a close game. Notice that he looks over his left shoulder and sees everything that is being set up across the entire baseline.
Neither screen is able to separate him from his man and he uses his elite burst and length to deny the shot without risking a foul.
His technique on this play is a bit encouraging as well. His hands are very disciplined and he uses his length to force the ball handler baseline. He does not move his feet quite as well as he needs but he is once again able to use his length to deny the shot.
There are a number of intriguing prospects that are likely to be selected between the Hawks’ picks at No. 3 and No. 19. Some mock drafts have Walker going in the 20’s but it seems his evaluation at the NBA combine could have very well moved him into the late lottery and it seems at least reasonably unlikely that he will be available for Atlanta.
Teams currently slotted to draft in between the 4 and 18 spots that might prioritize selecting players that project to be able to contribute immediately (Cleveland, Philadelphia, Denver, Milwaukee and San Antonio) could significantly play into where a very high upside prospect like Walker might be selected. If the Hawks have interest, however, it might come down to them being willing to give something up to move up a few spots to land him.