The hardest part for any draft hopeful is the waiting.
Former University of Miami guard Lonnie Walker IV had to wait a bit longer than he expected Thursday night, but his extended time on the floor of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center could ultimately work out greatly in his favor.
The San Antonio Spurs selected the Reading, Pennsylvania native 18th overall, putting Walker in position to play for one of the NBA’s most highly-regarded franchises and for one of the league’s all-time great coaches in Gregg Popovich.
Most NBA mock drafts had Walker as a veritable lock to go in the lottery (the first 14 picks of the first round) – with ESPN slotting him to go No. 12 to the Los Angeles Clippers in its final mock.
While it wasn’t a huge slide – like the one Michael Porter Jr. had Thursday before he was ultimately taken No. 14 by Denver – Walker had to postpone the customary handshake with NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
Not going to a lottery team has increased the size of the chip on Walker’s shoulder.
It’s time to prove everyone wrong,” Walker told reporters in his conference call after being drafted. “I know I am in the right place at the right time to become something special.”
San Antonio tabbing Walker with its first round pick showed they like the versatility he brings to their backcourt. A 6-foot-5 combo guard with elite level athleticism, Walker drew draft-night comparison’s to the “steal” of 2017’s NBA Draft – Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell.
With the ball in his hands, Walker can get his own shot or create shots for others. He also can play off the ball, able to knock down three-pointers (something he did at a 35 percent clip during his one season with the Hurricanes), and has the physical tools (a 6-foot-10 wingspan) to be a very good defender in the league.
Walker going to the Spurs also sheds a little light on the way the team intends on handling the recently made trade demands by its All-NBA superstar Kwahi Leonard.
Leonard, a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and 2014 NBA Finals MVP, has made it clear that he no longer wants to play in San Antonio and has said he would prefer to be traded to a team in Los Angeles – the Lakers rather than the Clippers.
San Antonio has stonewalled teams that have called to inquire about Leonard, saying that their intention is to repair the relationship with their superstar.
However, in taking Walker – a player that has some skills overlap with Leonard – it would seem that the Spurs are also preparing for a future without Leonard.
With his selection, Walker becomes the fifth University of Miami player to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, joining Rick Barry (second overall, San Francisco Warriors, 1965), Tim James (25th, Miami Heat, 1999), John Salmons (26th, San Antonio Spurs, 2002) and Shane Larkin (18th, Atlanta Hawks, 2013).
Detroit Drafts Bruce Brown
While Walker had a slight slide, former Miami guard Bruce Brown Jr. had a much longer wait before he heard his name called Thursday.
Once projected as a late first-round pick, Brown slid down into the second round – being selected No. 42 overall by the Detroit Pistons.
Brown was one of two players selected in the second round by the Pistons Thursday. The other was Creighton guard Khyri Thomas at No. 38 overall.
What could have stunted Brown’s drafting potential was that his sophomore season with the Hurricanes was cut short when he missed the final seven weeks of the season after having surgery on his left foot.
When healthy, Brown has shown NBA-level athleticism which allows him to attack the basket and finish in traffic in the lane.
Because second round picks are on non-guaranteed contracts, Brown must prove to new Pistons head coach Dwane Casey that he’s worthy of a roster spot and playing time.
“I never had the spotlight on me,” Brown told the Detroit media. “People [have] overlooked me. It added a chip on my shoulder and I’m ready to prove myself.”