You know the old phrase, “when life gives you lemons…”
Well, Walt Lemon definitely made lemonade. The lemons being a short-term contract with the Bulls. The lemonade being a 19-point performance against the Toronto Raptors in his debut.
Lemon stuffed every category of the box score with 19 points, six assists, four rebounds, four steals, and one block. He was all over the court; driving in for layups, getting into arguments with Kyle Lowry, and stalking passing lanes like it was his personal mission to steal the ball on every possession.
In a game that the Bulls lost by 23, Lemon almost made you forget that the team was getting blown out. The Chicago native made the most of his first shot on an NBA court with his hometown team and he made sure not to forgot what a monumental moment it was for him.
“This is definitely a surreal moment for me. And I’m going to never forget it. I’m going to cherish this moment for the rest of my life,” Lemon told the Chicago Tribune after the game. “Part of me didn’t want to mess up. Part of me was a little emotional because, you know, I got a Bulls jersey on me. And I’m from here. It was just a lot of emotions in one. I wanted to play the right way and just really show people who Walt Lemon is.”
If they didn’t already know before, Bulls fans know Walt Lemon’s name now.
The point guard played high school ball at Percy L. Julian in Washington Heights and didn’t travel far for college, attending Bradley University in Peoria. Lemon went undrafted in the 2014 NBA draft and eventually signed with the G-League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants in 2016.
He bounced around the G-League for a few seasons before being traded to the Windy City Bulls in January. Lemon made an instant impact on the team and eventually lead them to the G-League playoffs before being called up by the Chicago Bulls on Thursday.
Friday’s game was his first with the Bulls, but not his first with an NBA team. Lemon appeared in five games for the New Orleans Pelicans last season and was on the Boston Celtics’ roster for just under two months earlier this season, but didn’t see any game time.
None of his previous games were as successful as Friday’s, which Lemon credits to his preparation.
“When I got called up last year, I wasn’t used to the pace and athleticism of the NBA. That’s something I had to adjust to. This time around, I think I did a better job of pacing myself and knowing my game. I wasn’t trying to force nothing. Just play the right way,” he told the Tribune.
Playing “the right way” earned Lemon praise from coach Jim Boylen and his teammates Robin Lopez and Zach LaVine. If he can continue to play that way, there’s no doubt that an NBA team would sign him to a long-term contract than the one he’s currently in with the Bulls, which will keep him on the roster until the end of the season.
Even if that is the end of his tenure with the Bulls, Chicago won’t be forgetting the name Lemon anytime soon. In a dead-end season, he’s finally given fans something to cheer for.
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