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Lonnie Walker IV made another strong case for minutes against Minnesota

Before leaving early against Minnesota with an ankle injury, Lonnie Walker IV was the most impressive Laker behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

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NBA: Preseason-Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Lakers Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

For the non-superstars on the Lakers roster, Wednesday’s preseason game against the Wolves was a bit of a slog. Shots weren’t going in, and there was a real-time feeling-out process as Darvin Ham tried out a new rotation and more guard-heavy lineups that left most players out of rhythm.

Most players, but not Lonnie Walker IV.

In his third round of exhibition action, Walker was at his finest. He had the advantage of playing alongside the team’s stars in the starting lineup, and he made the most of that opportunity to the tune of 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting in 19 minutes. Walker has long been touted for his athleticism, and it was clear how much his speed impacted his ability to make plays in the half court and in transition.

In his first shift, Walker was flying off curls into open space and pushing the tempo to get the Lakers down the floor quickly. That resulted in a number of looks right at the basket, a key for a team not exactly brimming with shooters (even if the Lakers have to have better nights from the field than they did against the Wolves).

“He’s a guy that can move around and get downhill,” Ham said postgame about Walker. “He’s a guy that’s not gonna give up. There’s no quit in that kid, and you saw it, he just makes plays athletically through the paint. Offensive rebounds, putting pressure on the glass.... He’s gonna take our competitiveness, our energy, he’s gonna take that up a level.”

That dynamism is what pops off the screen with Walker, but there are other more subtle elements to his game that continue to dazzle and surprise his teammates. Davis readily admitted to not watching much of San Antonio, other than the film on the scouting report, when Walker played there, and was unaware that Walker had so much passing craft.

Walker showed off more facility in the pick-and-roll in earlier games when the Lakers were without some of their other ball handlers. On Wednesday, he did a good job of attacking on the second side, driving at closeouts and making the right decision in the paint. Walker’s best dish of the night wasn’t technically an assist; he drove baseline and found a cutting LeBron through a thicket of Timberwolves bigs, resulting in two free throws for James.

“He can get to the basket, finishing, making the right reads,” Davis said postgame. “Honestly, I didn’t know he was that good of a passer. He can really pass the ball which surprised me... But he played really well before he went down. Coming off that injury with his ankle. we were all curious to see how he was gonna play, he got his legs back under him and played well tonight.”

At the start of training camp, when Rob Pelinka revealed that Walker had suffered a minor ankle injury, it was easy to think of Kendrick Nunn’s 2021-22 season and fear the worst, the ghosts of midlevel exceptions past. When Walker sprained the same ankle Wednesday and had to leave the game, there was another reason to worry.

Fortunately, Ham said that Walker was a full participant in Thursday’s practice and will be available for the preseason finale against Sacramento. Walker is one of only a few Lakers with positive momentum heading into that Kings game, and it’s a good sign that the 23-year-old’s progress can continue unabated as the Lakers head into the regular season.

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