Lonnie Walker IV has made a strong first impression with the Lakers.
Yes, the team is 2-5, but it’s hard to pin too much of the blame for that on Walker, who has arguably exceeded expectations after he was signed to a one-year deal this offseason. He’s defending hard and providing a downhill and transition threat for a Lakers squad that needs all of those skills.
But the real beauty of Lonnie Walker, the Laker, is how much fun he’s having in Los Angeles, and how much the Crypto.com Arena crowd already loves him. All due respect to Matt Ryan, but the Laker with the best highlights this season is Walker. He got his own team so amped with a dunk against New Orleans that the Lakers bench got a technical. For my money, this dunk against the Clippers is probably his highlight of the year; Lonnie Sky Walker is the real deal.
The love between the fanbase and Walker has been reciprocated. He drives the fans into a frenzy, but as he told Mike Trudell after the win over the Pelicans, he also feeds off the roar of the Los Angeles crowd:
“There ain't no energy like here. This is one of one. If you’re not excited, inspired, and motivated to play your best game here, then I don't know why you’re playing basketball.”
Those are nice words to say about a player’s home crowd, but Walker’s play backs up that statement. So far this season, he’s averaging 13 more points per game at home. That beautiful jump shot is connecting on 39.3 percent of its threes at Crypto.com Arena; away from home, Walker is shooting 7.7 percent from distance. Role players tend to perform better in front of their home fans, and Walker is exemplifying that trend in an extreme fashion.
What’s interesting is Walker has always played well in front of the Lakers crowd, even when he was a visiting San Antonio Spur. In four games as the opponent, Walker averaged 12.5 points per game at the then-Staples Center, making half of his 2-pointers and 8-of-15 threes. In comparison, Walker averaged 9.4 points per contest during his Spurs career while making 41.4 percent of his field goals.
And in case you were wondering, it’s the Lakers crowd, not the building, because his splits against Staples Center’s other tenant over the last four years (4.2 points per game, 1-of-14 on threes) don’t indicate any excitement, motivation, or inspiration.
The Lakers could certainly use more of the L.A. version of Walker in their road games, where they’re currently winless. But for now, with six of the next eight games at home, this is the 23-year-old’s time to cook. Walker has not only found a team that fits him, but a place that animates him. It could be the beginning of a beautiful relationshp as Walker writes the next chapter of his NBA career.