Lonnie Walker is a 6-foot-4 shooting guard to keep an eye on throughout this year’s pre-draft process. The first round is loaded with big men and relatively light on perimeter help, especially shooting guards, which is why some executives believe Walker could climb draft boards between now and June 21, 2018.
In his lone collegiate season at Miami, he didn’t post monster numbers, but he flashed glimpses of the player he could be as he taps into his potential. He’s an incredible athlete, so don’t be surprised if there’s significant buzz about him after the NBA draft combine in Chicago this week. Most mock drafts have Walker in the teens, with some projecting that he climbs into a late lottery pick.
HoopsHype caught up with Walker to discuss his pre-draft training, ceiling, strengths and weaknesses, NBA comparison and more.
What is it like being able to focus 100 percent on basketball now that you’re out of school?
Lonnie Walker: Being able to focus just on basketball, whether it’s lifting or doing skill work, is so great. I’ve definitely upped my game. I’m consistently working hard, day in and day out. I’m working out every day and it’s a tremendous feeling. The results have been amazing too. When we did our baseline testing the other day, I exceeded what I needed to accomplish and I think it’s because of how focused I’ve been mentally and physically. When you’re just focusing on basketball and not anything else, it helps a lot. It’s a big deal and your game can take a big step forward.
You’re only 19 years old and I think your potential is going to be really attractive to teams. How good can you be if you reach your full potential?
LW: I feel that I can be a franchise player. I feel that I have what it takes, whether it’s offensively or defensively. I can score with the best of them and I can guard the best players in my respective area. That’s what I’m looking forward to in my future. The potential is there, but I just need to keep working hard and believing in myself like nobody else.
You’re a phenomenal athlete, which could really help you stand out during this process. How excited are you to showcase your athleticism, and how much do you feel that can help you at workouts and the combine?
LW: I believe it should help a lot. I’m a lot more athletic than people know. When you see me in person, it’s different than seeing me in film. And during the combine, I’ll be able to showcase everything with the different drills. That’s definitely going to give me the opportunity to turn heads and have people realize that this is a completely different Lonnie that nobody has seen or experienced before.
Can you walk me through a typical day for you now that you’ve started your pre-draft training? What is your schedule like?
LW: On a typical day, I’ll wake up around 7 am to eat breakfast and then head over to the gym around 7:30. I’ll get there around 8 to stretch. Then, I’ll do skill work with my trainer, Chris Gaston. Then, as soon as I’m done with skill work, I go to lift weights. Then, after weightlifting, I may have mindset [training], cryotherapy or recovery – that can vary. Then, I’ll stretch again and I’ll wrap up around 1 pm. Usually I’ll take a nap and then I’m back in the gym around 5 pm. for my second workout. It’s kind of like doing two-a-days. At 5, I’ll get shots up and continue to work on my game.
Has it hit you yet that you’re going to be in the NBA pretty soon?
LW: Honestly, it hasn’t hit me. Honestly, even the fact that I did a year in college hasn’t fully hit me yet (laughs). It hasn’t hit me yet, but I’m definitely excited for that time to come. I think it’ll be when I’m with my father and my mom and we’re all talking about it. It’ll probably get really emotional because things like this don’t happen too often. It’s a blessing that I’m in this position. It’s a lot of hard work paying off.
When did you first fall in love with basketball?
LW: Since I can remember. My father always played in different rec leagues and he would take me wherever he went, so I was always surrounded by basketball all the time and it became my best friend. If I didn’t have a basketball in my hand, nine times of 10, I was crying and rolling on the floor (laughs). But once they would give me a basketball, all the crying would stop. So I’ve always had a natural love for basketball, but now I’m absolutely obsessed and addicted to this game. It plays such a huge role in my life.
Who are some NBA players that you study or try to learn from?
LW: I like to study CJ McCollum, especially his dynamic way of scoring, picking apart the big and reading his man as far as how he’s playing screens and stuff like that. And I’m a huge Klay Thompson fan, with his ability to catch-and-shoot and his great footwork. When he’s coming in from the left wing or right wing or running to the corner for a jump shot, he has some of the best footwork to be able to get to where he needs to be and shoot his shot in rhythm. Those are the top two people who I watch a lot. I tried to make my jump shot similar to Ray Allen’s, just in terms of form and technique. I wouldn’t say I necessarily resemble those players, but they’re the guys who I watch a lot.
What players would you say you do resemble?
LW: Honestly, I’m not sure. I haven’t really gone through and thought, “Who do I play like?” I can tell you who my friends and my fans have said, though. A lot of people say Jimmy Butler and some people say Iman Shumpert. I actually had one fan give me the dopest comparison, and compliment, when he said I reminded him of a young Ray Allen. That almost brought me to tears (laughs). Who wouldn’t want to be Jesus Shuttlesworth?! Those are some of the names I’ve heard, but I don’t worry about comparisons too much. I just try to be the best Lonnie Walker I can be.
For people who may not know your game well, what would you say your biggest strengths are?
LW: My biggest strengths are shooting, my athleticism and my defensive ability – being able to guard the one, the two and the three here and there. I think I have a strong overall game.
What are some areas of weakness that you’re working to improve?
LW: My ballhandling is, by far, what I’ve been working on the most. Ballhandling and working on my left hand too; it’s not as strong as my right hand, so we have to get it up there. I want my weaknesses to become strengths, so I’m working on my handles and left hand day in and day out when we’re in the gym.
Every player approaches mock drafts differently; some like to look at them either to see how they’re perceived or for motivation, but some players refuse to look. Do you look at mock drafts or do you ignore them?
LW: Oh no, not at all. It’s all about the outcome and the mock draft don’t dictate that. Wherever I get picked – whether it’s first, middle, last or even if I go undrafted – sooner or later, there will be a team out there that’s thankful they got me because I’m going to play at 110 percent and contribute. I’ve worked my butt off to put myself in this position and I’m not about to ruin it.
We talked about your long-term potential, but what role do you see yourself playing in the NBA as a rookie next season?
LW: I’ll definitely be a 3-and-D player in my rookie season, being able to shoot and defend. I think I’ll be able to energize the team, whether that’s defensively with my effort and strong play on that end or on offense with my ability to knock down shots, get to the lane and finish against bigger centers.