Hawks draft prospect watch: Lonnie Walker, U. Miami

The Hawks could have as many as three first-round picks in the 2018 draft. Their own pick almost certainly will be in the lottery. Barring collapses by the Rockets and Timberwolves, the Hawks also will own the lottery-protected, first-round picks for those two teams via trades.  This is the first of my occasional reports on prospects expected to be selected in the first round of the draft.

Lonnie Walker IV

College: Miami (Fla.)

Hometown: Reading, Pa.

Class: Freshman

Height/weight: 6-5, 206

Age: 19 (Dec. 14, 1998)

ESPN draft projection : 14th

No University of Miami player has ever been selected in the NBA draft lottery. This year they could have two: Lonnie Walker IV and Bruce Brown Jr. I was at McCamish Pavilion on Wednesday night (along with 13 NBA scouts) to get a look at the duo. (More on Brown in a later post.)

Walker, a McDonald’s and Jordan Brand All-American, played 23 minutes off the bench against Tech as an off-the-ball wing. He finished with six points on eight shots (0-for-3 on 3's), five rebounds, two steals, a block and two turnovers. The Jackets won 64-54.

A DraftExpress scouting report on Walker from a USA Basketball camp in 2016 listed a lack of assertiveness as one of his weaknesses, and that’s what I saw from Walker too. That was especially true in the second half, when the game got away from the Hurricanes. Coach Jim Larranaga had Walker on the bench at the finish.

Walker said too little aggressiveness has been a persistent problem for him this season.

“It’s my mentality,” he said. “I’ve got to get back to that ‘dog’ mentality because not everyone on that court is your friend. It’s all about confidence. I like getting everyone going before I get going and make sure everyone else is involved. One of the keys I’ve been watching is when I’m aggressive, our team starts getting aggressive. I’ve just get back to my old ways and understand my role, and that’s to attack and rebound and just do everything offensively and defensively.”

Walker tended to float around the perimeter on offense against Tech. Some of that was because Hurricanes ball-handlers didn’t seem to have any idea how to attack Tech’s zone. But there were several times when the ball swung around to Walker and he had good angles to slash to the basket if he'd been ready to attack. Instead, Walker took an aimless dribble or two before giving up the ball.

One of his three field goals was an alley-oop dunk on a nice backdoor cut. Walker also showed his improved ball-handling on back-to-back scores at the basket off the dribble in the first half — on the second, Walker went the length of the floor, split the heart of Tech's defense and used his length and body control to convert at tough angle. Maybe Walker would be better as a primary ball-handler but that won't be his role in the NBA, at least not initially.

Defensively, Walker used his quick feet, strong frame and long wingspan (6-10) to good effect as an individual defender and rebounder. But his awareness as a help defender came and went as, again, Walker tended to watch more than react.

In 14 games (299 minutes) Walker hasn’t been very productive or efficient. On a per-40 minute basis he’s produced 15.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 21.6 steals and 2.0 turnovers. Walker has a 50.0 effective field-goal percentage while shooting plenty of threes (48 among his 99 field-goal attempts) but making just 15 (31.3 percent). Walker also is shooting just 68 percent on free throws, which is a strong predictor of NBA three-point shooting.

The NBA is in love with long, multi-positional wings who can make 3-pointers. After standing next to Walker I’d say he’s closer to 6-4 than 6-5, which would make him short for an NBA wing. But Walker’s wingspan is legit and he’s solidly built for his age so he could be effective as a defender against taller opponents in the pros. It remains to be seen if he can develop his shooting touch.

This season the Hawks primarily have used five players on the wing: Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, Marco Belinelli, DeAndre’ Bembry and Malcolm Delaney. Bellinelli and Delaney are in the final season of their contracts and Bembry is in the G-League after a rough stretch. If the Hawks en up selecting Walker in the draft, it’s likely that there would be plenty of minutes available for him (though, really, that’s true for all players the Hawks draft regardless of position).

NBA teams will want to get a closer look at Walker’s right knee after he had surgery to repair a meniscus tear on July 14. Walker said the injury isn’t a factor in his struggles.

“My health is 200 percent,” he said. “There’s no excuse. There’s no, ‘Oh, he’s still not 100 percent healthy.’ I feel like I’m the strongest player on the court. I worked out in my offseason with a purpose. I’m jumping higher and running faster. So there is no excuse to how I’m playing, I’ve just got to pick it up.”

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.