After his early dominance, many NBA fans are scavenging around looking for the next Donovan Mitchell. The next late lottery slider who turns out to be an immediate contributor who increases their percentage of winning substantially.
From many different angles, Miami’s (FL) Lonnie Walker IV checks the boxes executives want out of that next late riser in the draft process. Just like how Mitchell did in the weeks leading up to hearing his name called by Utah, Walker’s stock has been boosted to possibly going inside the top 10, something I didn’t expect back in May or June.
However, the similarities between the two are actually eerily similar from a physical measurable and advanced stats point of view. As freshmen, Walker and Mitchell were nearly identical in efficiency while 2018’s score-first guard has the leg up in turning the ball over less. In his sophomore campaign, Mitchell improved his three-point shooting by over 10% to reach where Walker stood this year at 34.6%.
Where Mitchell separates himself is in terms of overall explosiveness and secondary playmaking upside. While thriving with Utah, Mitchell’s passing ability immediately stood out when he was placed into a system where everyone would be held accountable equally.
If Walker landed in Phoenix, would be saying the same thing under Igor Kokoskov’s tutelage? Possibly, and that’s why the two-way upside with Walker is hard to ignore when comparing him to other wings in this loaded top portion of the draft.
For all freshman guard/wing prospects in the 2018 crop, Walker is joined by only Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Gary Trent Jr. and Zhaire Smith for players who allotted above a 50 true shooting percentage, player efficiency rating (PER) above 15, and offensive box plus-minus (OBPM) above 3 while also shooting +34% from beyond the arc. Outside of maybe Trent Jr., who I have ranked in the mid-second, all will likely end up going in the lottery.
And when adjusting his numbers to per 36 minutes, Walker averaged 14.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists (+1.65 AST/TO) and 1.2 steals with 41.5/34.6/73.8 shooting splits.
Walker IV has huge scoring upside, but what else can you count on him to bring to the table for an NBA rotation night-in, night-out? During his rookie season, expect Walker IV to make his money off spot-up opportunities from deep while also creating offensive sparks for the second unit. Unless he lands in a situation dire of guard play, Walker should be brought along slowly before receiving heavy minutes.
Lets dive into the strengths and weaknesses of one of the more polarizing prospects as of late.
The main area that immediately jumps off the page with this bouncy wing is his pure athletic package. Not only can Walker create looks consistently off screens and pin downs, but he can explode toward the rim with thunderous intentions.
The Mitchell comparisons start to fall short when realizing Walker’s lack of creating contact and inconsistent shooting percentages, especially from mid-range at just under 30%, but the pure upside is definitely on tap. Give Walker lanes to the rim and he’s going to try to yam on his defender more times than not.
Early on, Walker will need to rely on his plus shooting stroke, which is one of the best in this class. Walker is best in catch-and-shoot opportunities where his quick release helps him aim and fire with ease. Right away, he will leave his mark there on the next level.
Similar to Malik Monk in 2017, Walker lands for me near him as far as confidence in eventually becoming someone who hits near 40% of his three-point attempts. This past season, Walker averaged 6.6 3s per 36, three-point rate equalling 50.9%, so that’s one area to pinpoint there.
Walker is also quick without his dribble. Whether it’s on cuts or lob attempts, he is savvy enough to realize the openings and exploit them. There is indeed three-level scoring upside with him, but it will take more time than people realize even with his strong offensive pedigree already.
Also, we can’t forget about Walker’s measurements which are ideal for versatile wings in today’s NBA. Possessing one reaching 6’10.5” (+6” H2W), he profiles as someone able to cover 1-3 in time.
Walker reminds me of the one prospect ranked in the lottery who’s so raw that the upside is too tantalizing not to select him. It happens every year, but Kevin Knox and Walker seem to be ones who are rising while more consistent players like Mikal Bridges and Miles Bridges are falling.
One area that immediately worries me with Walker’s transition is his lack of getting to the free throw line.
Accumulating one of the worst rates for first round wings at only 20.4%, Walker will need to not only add more muscle mass onto his frame to take an 82-game rigor but also effectively finish for and-one moments. Weighing only 196 pounds right now, Walker still needs to add close to 20 pounds for him to likely reach his fully functional athletic peak on the basketball court.
Walker also lacks overall top-notch instincts on both ends at this stage of his development. Far too often does Walker gamble on steals or just let his man blow right by him without contesting.
Buying in on both ends will be paramount for Walker, but having a coach like Kokoskov who is key on player development might be best for his trajectory.
Like another Miami wing on the Suns’ roster right now, Davon Reed, there is also concern about Walker’s medial status. Around one year ago at this time, Walker suffered a torn meniscus in an offseason practice. As we know, Walker would return and still put together an impressive freshman season, but it’s something all medical staffs will need to go over before selecting him, especially in the lottery portion.
Instinctually, Walker is also lacking on both ends. Not only are his playmaking abilities minimal, but he’s not able to recognize many chances for easier looks on both ends.
Off the ball, Walker likes to camp around and wait instead of continuing to run around creating chaos for open shot opportunities. With more hands-on coaching in systems that love to utilize motions, just like how Kokoskov will in Phoenix, that concern should be neutered but Walker continues to point to me more like a project compared to someone ready to contribute right away.
Physical Profile Overview
Standing Reach: 8’3.5”
Fit in Phoenix
I wouldn’t recommend moving up for Walker IV, but if he’s on the board at No. 16 it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Suns go in this direction. Phoenix is in need of more scorers and ones who if they hit with their high upside, they could become long term contributors to a future contender in the Western Conference.
Backing up Devin Booker, Walker IV would be able to grow into his role slowly while usurping Troy Daniels and Davon Reed for the lions share of second unit minutes. Eventually, this former Miami Hurricane wing could blossom into someone who could share ball handling duties and take on the tougher assignment alongside Booker in the backcourt.
Either way, surrounding Booker with plus shooting and defensive potential is the way Phoenix needs to operate this summer to help their franchise star reach even higher numbers in 2017-18.
Going in the direction of Walker helps fulfill that vision even further heading into one of the most pivotal seasons, in terms of overall team improvement needed, in recent memory.
Big Board: No. 16 (No. 5 Wing)
Comparison: Ceiling - Donovan Mitchell / Floor - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope