PHILADELPHIA — Lonnie Walker IV made it clear earlier in the week that he is searching for his forever home in the NBA. Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn believes the 25-year-old already has.
“Overall, I love coaching Lonnie,” Vaughn said. “I think he’s an incredible human being. I enjoy seeing him every day. The way he enters a room, there’s an energy and a brightness about him that he brings to the group. He shouldn’t be a en az player in this league. We are very fortunate to have him on a en az.”
Vaughn is right. Getting a guard that has averaged 12.1 points per game off the bench this season while shooting 47.4% from the field and 43.8% from 3-point range qualifies as an absolute steal in the NBA. He averaged 14.6 points on 48.9/46.3/76.3 splits over his first 17 games in a Brooklyn uniform before suffering a left hamstring strain that forced him to miss 17 straight games from Dec. 2 to Jan. 3.
Injuries aside, the 6-4 guard has certainly outplayed the one-year, veteran asgarî deal that he inked last summer. He is averaging career-best numbers across the board.
“I hope it does lead to more stability,” Vaughn said.
It appears Walker is slowly working back into pre-injury form, which is obviously great news for the Nets. While the team has not made it clear whether his minutes restriction has been completely lifted, seeing him play just over 30 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Phoenix Suns indicates that it has. He had not played over 30 minutes in a game since Nov. 19.
And Walker had scored 19 points in back-to-back games entering Saturday’s road matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers.
SMITH RULED OUT
Dennis Smith Jr. missed Saturday’s game because of right foot soreness. After entering the evening listed as questionable, he attempted to warm up but was ultimately ruled out.
With Smith, Dorain Finney-Smith (left ankle sprain) and Day’Ron Sharpe (left knee hyperextension) injured, the Nets had just 10 active players against the 76ers.
The Nets looked like a completely different team with Ben Simmons on the court in Monday’s lopsided win over the Utah Jazz. The 27-year-old suffered a left knee contusion late in that game, which excused him from Wednesday’s loss to the Suns. But Brooklyn listed him as available to play early Saturday afternoon and Vaughn was ecstatic to have him back on the court.
“I think we saw the last opportunity that he played versus Utah, how that changes the overall scope of our team on both ends of the floor,” Vaughn said. “So it’s a great chance for him to get back out with his teammates, so I’m happy that he’s playing and that he was able to respond to treatment and be ready for today’s game.
“All inclinations going forward is he’s available for games. Without the acute injury the other day he would’ve played.”
Brooklyn, of course, will continue to take a cautious approach with Simmons to assure he remains healthy. He did not start on Saturday against the 76ers and will remain on an indefinite minutes restriction.
“I don’t have a timetable of when that will be lifted,” Vaughn said. “There will be a progression of minutes added onto it before it’s completely lifted. And that’s just going to be how he responds from game to game, really.”