It’ has been another season shrouded in storm clouds for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Lonnie Walker IV, however, is providing an energizing ray of sunshine while helping the Lakers “dance through the rain.”
The 23-year-old shooting guard is averaging 16.5 points (6.8 above his career average) in 31 minutes per game. He’s shooting 47.2% from the field and 35.7% from 3. He’s setting career-best marks in basically every offensive category. His .084 Win Shares per 48 are well above his previous best (.037).
Walker has started all 11 games and has three performances of 25-plus points. He has been a primary driver of success, averaging 23.7 points in their three wins. He has ignited multiple scoring sprees, like the exhilarating 18-2 third-quarter run in their first dub against the Denver Nuggets, which included 10 points in three minutes from LW4. In a win over the New Orleans Pelicans, he nailed a key triple and dunk on back-to-back plays in OT. All these scenarios electroshocked Crypto.com Arena into a frenzy.
LONNIE WALKER: "My jump shot is too beautiful to not be making any threes."
Walker: 5 3PTS
Rest of the Lakers: 5 3PTS
Pelicans: 8 3PTSpic.twitter.com/TZPCAAFCTD
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) November 3, 2022
In the past two games, with LeBron James sidelined, Walker picked up the scoring load. He dropped 19 against the Sacramento Kings and 25 points (9-of-15 FG, 4-of-5 from 3, +20) in Sunday’s victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
Lonnie Walker IV on his dip in 3-point shooting last season: "You can look at the percentages but leave me open and see what’s gonna happen.”
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) July 6, 2022
For the most part, Walker is being shrewd with his shot selection (not something every Laker can claim). As Silver Screen & Roll’s Alex Regla astutely observed, the five-year veteran is effectively seeking short-to-mid-range shots and high-quality 3s off his teammate’s dishes. He can, at times, look for an early-shot clock/transition heat check, but Ham generally doesn’t mind the aggression.
“He’s been really decisive, playing with a lot of force, a lot of energy, and the ball tends to find energy,” Ham said about Walker after practice on Wednesday. “I told him that he not only has the green light but he’s got the green room. I want him to be as aggressive as possible. All his teammates, the rest of the starting group, and everybody in the building has the utmost confidence in him. So he just needs to go out there and have fun, compete his behind off, and just enjoy it.”
I asked Lonnie Walker IV how Darvin Ham’s system fits the Lakers. He said it fits “great” and it’s basically up to the role players to support LeBron, AD, and Russ with energy pic.twitter.com/bD4QPouq23
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) October 21, 2022
Lonnie Walker IV is a nifty ball handler and shot creator as he explores the lane. He doesn’t rack up assists (2.0 per 36), but he can create for himself with his athleticism and shiftiness. (Setting up passing lanes and executing those dishes will be a crucial next step in his development.)
“Every time I touch the ball, I’m looking to be aggressive,” Walker said. “We kept running the pick-and-roll with AD. When you got somebody with that level of talent, buckets come real easy, because they’re worrying about AD more than anyone else. So I gotta be ready to just knock down shots.”
“He’s huge because he can initiate plays as well as be on the receiving end of something that we’re putting together offensively,” Ham said. “Just his athleticism. His ability to keep constant pressure on the rim. He’s got a mid-range game. He can shoot 3s. Definitely a three-level scorer.”
Darvin Ham might need to explore Lonnie Walker more as an on-ball shot creator.
It’s a limited sample (1.8 possessions per game), but Lonnie is is putting up 1.10ppp on PnR ballhandler possessions/89th percentile in the NBA.
Considerably more efficient than Russ/Lebron/Reaves pic.twitter.com/bXe94jpx5f
— LAbound (@LAbound2) November 15, 2022
Walker’s emergence represents a sigh of relief, especially for Rob Pelinka. He was signed, in part, to replace Malik Monk, a similarly sized, über-bouncy guard who was a rare positive contributor to the 2021-22 campaign. So far, Lonnie has filled the void, and then some.
Furthermore, the Walker signing drew more speculation and criticism than any other Lakers offseason decision, as he received their prized mid-level exception — the franchise’s lone non-minimum contract offering. Many observers wondered if his deal had more to do with his representation than his résumé.
Finally, the Lakers were somewhat ridiculed for labeling Walker as a “3-and-D” player because of his prior rickety shooting and unproven defense. In his intro presser, Walker stressed that he was here to defend.
“I see my skill set fitting in perfectly,” he said. “I’m here to do whatever I need to do in order for the team to win. I’m coming in here to play defense. Play the best I can, play the hardest I can, and let the games speak for themselves. Offensively, I know I can provide a lot. Defensively, I’m here to do what I do, whoever you want me to guard, whenever there’s time for me to make some stops, that’s what I’m here for.
“I’m a chameleon, man. I can change with my environment.”
So far, Lonnie Walker IV is knocking down (enough) triples and has been steadfastly competitive on defense.
“He gives you a spark there,” Ham said about LW4’s D. “His ability to chase down and block shots, get steals, he’s just an electrifying young player. And I love having him in our fold. He’s been nothing short of amazing. I’m looking forward to him just continuously getting better.”
Walker’s sheer electricity and attitude have ignited the Lakers at times. Like Monk, his vivacity and eye-popping rim-attacking jolt his teammates and the crowd in a flash (his misses are often spectacular). Like Monk, he brings a mix of playful confidence, honest self-effacing criticism, and positive vibes. The Lakers need all of that.
— LAbound (@LAbound2) November 17, 2022
It’s worth acknowledging that Walker is not the only bright spot for the Lakers. Austin Reaves, Troy Brown Jr., and, to a lesser extent, Wenyen Gabriel, have provided constant energy and embraced the in-between areas of the game on both ends. Ham’s scheme has garnered open looks — even if the shots aren’t falling — his optimistic demeanor has been uplifting, and the buy-in he’s engendered deserves praise. AD has had monstrous moments. The defense can be stifling. They effectively push the pace. 19-year-old rookie Max Christie has cracked the rotation earlier than expected and has taken advantage of those opportunities.
But Lonnie Walker IV deserves a special shoutout for what he has brought to the table so far for the Lakers. Now, let’s just get him in the dunk contest.