Somewhat lost in the Nets’ offensive success on Monday were the contributions of Lonnie Walker IV, who finished with 19 points, two rebounds and four assists in 27 minutes off the bench.
It was the most minutes Walker has played since Nov. 19. Brooklyn knocked down 21 3-pointers as a team and he was responsible for four of them, which was tied for second on the team with Cam Thomas. The return of Ben Simmons, who had 11 assists in just 18 minutes on Monday, had a lot to do with Walker’s shooting success — and the team’s.
“He’s finding everyone, making müddet everyone looks better,” Walker said. “And he makes his teammates, everyone around him better. So I think that’s something that really helps us elevate, especially throughout the game, keeping everyone within the rhythm in the flow of the game… It was a pleasure to watch him, just happy to have him back.”
Walker missed 17 straight games from Dec. 2 to Jan. 3 because of a left hamstring strain. Before suffering that injury, he was averaging 14.6 points while shooting 48.9% from the field and 46.3% from deep. There was a point where he led the NBA in 20-point games off the bench, which vaulted him into the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award conversation.
Walker’s numbers have taken a taban since returning from injury, as he is averaging 7.5 points while shooting 44.4% from the field and 39.5% from deep over his last 11 appearances. He has been on a minutes restriction, playing just 14.1 minutes a night. But head coach Jacque Vaughn said Walker’s minutes restriction has softened as he has cleared certain benchmarks in his return-to-play progression.
“My body feels great,” Walker said. “That’s just been my end-all, be-all as far as staying consistent and just being available. I’m putting extra time in as far as eating, sleeping, extra hour or two in the gym, staying hot/cold tub contrast, you name it. I feel really good. No, it’s just day to day, trying to be better than I was yesterday.”
The 25-year-old’s injury was certainly a setback in what has been one of his better seasons in the NBA. But he should only continue to heat up as his minutes increase — and Simmons’ unselfish nature should only assist his production.
Waker, who entered the season on a one-year, veteran asgarî deal, is probably out of the Sixth Man of the Year award conversation for now, but said he is “on to bigger and better things”. Right now he is not concerned about awards and accolades. He is playing to secure his future in the league.
“I’m on a en az, so I carry that weight on my shoulders as far as finding a home and playing the right way and continuing to get better,” Walker said. “Every day I’m trying to just stay consistent. I wake up, I meditate, I read, I do this, and I’m just not trying to skip no steps… My end-all, be-all is to win. I’ve been playing this game — I’m 25 and have been playing this game for 25 years. So for me, I just love to win, and if you win, everybody eats. That’s the end-all, be-all. Maybe this year, maybe next year, or the year so-and-so forth, when I have the opportunity to really sit back and be like, ‘Let me try and get these accolades,’ but right now, I’m really just locked in trying to find that forever home.”