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Why the Best Is Yet To Come For Celtics Two-Way Player Walt Lemon Jr.

Dakota Schmidt looks over Walt Lemon Jr’s progression and examines in what ways he still needs to grow as a player.

2018 NBA Summer League - Las Vegas - Toronto Raptors v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Entering the 2017-18 season, there was a specific segment of G League point guards that stood out as the best of the bunch. That crop of elite back-court threats included Quinn Cook, Trey Burke, Alex Caruso, Briante Weber, Josh Magette, Dwight Buycks and Justin Dentmon. Although there were obviously some solid guards outside of that list, this initial hierarchy seemed to make sense.

The pecking order seemed to evaporate, however, once the regular season actually begun, as some of those overlooked guards came out the gate on fire. A prime example of that was Mad Ants guard Walt Lemon Jr, who was ignored due to some solid but yet unspectacular past seasons in the G League and with various international squads.

However, after being inserted into a starting role from the jump because of an inexperienced Mad Ants back-court. Lemon immediately shined. In that initial month, he averaged a league-high 26.6 points, 6.6 assists and 2.7 steals per game on 50% from the field.

Lemon’s fantastic play persisted throughout the remainder of the G League season as he finished the year averaging 22.3 points. 6.1 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2 steals per game on 49% from the field and 31% from beyond the arc on 3.4 perimeter attempts per game. That great performance pushed the league to name him to their All G League 3rd Team.

Although he was fantastic throughout the year with Fort Wayne, the highlight of his year came when the New Orleans Pelicans signed Lemon to a 10-day contract on February 21st. As is the case for most players on 10-days, the 6’3 guard was used sparingly as he only averaged 3.4 points and 1 assists on 43% from the field in only 7 minutes per game.

Following five games with the Pelicans, Lemon was waived by New Orleans and ended the season back with Fort Wayne. While he really didn’t get a chance to really get comfortable with the Pelicans, Lemon still used that time to prove that he has real potential to compete at the NBA level.

One NBA squad that recognized his ability and potential was the Boston Celtics, choosing to sign the Mad Ants alum to a two-way contract on July 25th. That deal will allow Lemon to spend up to 45 days in the NBA with the Celtics. Aside from that, he’ll be in the G League for most of the year with the Maine Red Claws where he’ll receive $75,000 for the year, an upgrade over the $35,000 that typical G Leaguers will make in the 2018-19 season.

No matter if he’s playing with the Celtics or Red Claws, Lemon should be an exciting offensive player due to his great work as a distributor and on-ball slasher. The 6’3 guard’s knack as a facilitator was evident when he was with Fort Wayne as he averaged 6.1 assists per game with a 1.94 Ast/TO ratio. Those numbers are a sign that the 6’3 guard has progressed as his best numbers before then came when he was a senior at Bradley where he had 3.8 assists with a 1.1 Ast/TO ratio.

Those improved stats were largely due to Lemon being fantastic as a drive-and-dish facilitator. Although he was solid with working on the perimeter, as the 6’3 guard does a nice job of being patient in pick-and-rolls and being able to quickly find open teammates. That claim is backed up by how he excels at every single step of that process.

For starters, he was regularly able to utilize a blazing quick first step to just zoom past any perimeter defender. Afterwards, Lemon shows a knack of being able to recognize his surroundings as he’s able to find a teammate whether they’re hanging along behind the three-point line or in the paint. If there’s an open perimeter shooter, he does a great job of throwing a quick and precise pass that lands right in the hands of that teammate.

Those skills of being able to work past a defender and go to the paint are also beneficial when it comes to Lemon’s ability as an on-ball driver. In addition to maintaining one of the quickest first steps in the G League, Lemon has this innate ability to recognize when to drive as he likes to wait until his defender loses focus for a split second before he decides to attack. That quick decision-making is huge as Lemon is already in the paint before that defender realizes what is going on.

In addition to that blazing quick first step, Lemon can also use some lethal crossover moves to lulling his opponent to sleep with some between-the-legs or left-to-right maneuvers before just going in for the kill. Once he uses a quick first step or crossover move to work around that defender, Lemon stays shining as the 6’3 guard can finish around the rim whether he’s driving into contact or not.

Despite being a slender 180 pound guard, he has success due to natural athleticism that allows him to contort his body to get in the right position and hang in the air for a few extra milliseconds so he can get a good angle at the rim. Those traits work as he shot 61% from inside the restricted area during the 2017-18 season.

His tremendous work as a facilitator and on-ball driver were incredibly important to Lemon’s work on offense as he struggled as a perimeter shooter. On 3.3 attempts per game, he shot 31% from beyond the arc, which stood as the 7th lowest average among starting guards in the G League that played than more 30 minutes per game. That low shooting percentage likely has something to do with Lemon’s awkward looking jumper where the elbow on his shooting arm hitches left as he’s going up for a shot.

Weirdly enough, that inefficiency evaporates when Lemon was working inside the perimeter. In fact, the 6’3 guard was fantastic as he shot 48% on shots between 16-24 feet away from the rim. Although those aforementioned hitches in his jumper are still apparent when he’s working as a mid-range shooter, Lemon looks more relaxed in his shooting approach than when he’s working on the perimeter.

Despite his struggles as a perimeter shooter, Lemon still stood as an elite guard in the G League last year because of his tremendous work as a facilitator and on-ball driver. One year later, he’ll have an opportunity to progress on that fantastic season as a two-way player for the Boston Celtics.

However, he’ll likely spend in the G League due to the restrictions of a two-way deal and the Celtics already having a fantastic point guard trio with Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. That situation should be very beneficial for the young guard as he will be able to utilize his opportunity with the Red Claws to develop as a perimeter shooter. Progressing in that area would be huge for Lemon as becoming at least an above-average shooter might be the ticket for him to crack an NBA rotation as he’d have a pretty well-rounded offensive game.

Although the jury’s out on if he can make those adjustments, it’d be smart to at least be optimistic given how Lemon evolved from an overlooked role player to arguably the best offensive guard in the G League in just 12 months. Will that progression continue in 2018-19? Well we’ll see when Walt Lemon Jr. makes his debut with the Maine Red Claws in November.