Lonzo Ball’s first year in the pros is now part of Los Angeles Lakers history. Finally, he got a taste of what it’s like to be a legitimate big-league baller. For a player burdened by expectations way before he even entered his name in the 2017 NBA Draft, Lonzo seemingly did not meet the excessive projections his outspoken dad, LaVar Ball, championed.
For a player with features that resemble that of Drake’s, Lonzo obviously has plenty of room for improvement.
Lonzo is still in the early phase of his career. He has plenty of time to sharpen his dull jump shot and other areas of his game.
One glaring problem for Lonzo in his rookie season was that he was groomed to be the Lakers’ messiah. It’s not that easy to save a franchise, especially for a rookie. Pinning the Lakers’ hopes on Lonzo, however, gave the team’s fans something to hold on to – a reason to believe that they are headed somewhere.
That somewhere was supposed to be the playoffs, but apparently, Lonzo did not turn out to be as good as advertised – at least in his rookie year. There were flashes of brilliance, but they faded as quickly as they showed up; one day Lonzo hit three 3-pointers before bricking seven in a row the following contest.
Instead, the Lakers are excluded from the playoffs for the fifth-straight season, but they did finish with nine more wins than the campaign prior to Lonzo’s arrival.
The Lakers have a spoiled fanbase due to the franchise’s enormous collection of Larry O’Brien trophies, which have sometimes led to incongruency in expectations and reality. So when LaVar came into the picture and peddled his son as Los Angeles’ savior, Lakers fans, at least subconsciously, bought it.
Amazingly, Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson bought it, too. If there’s anything Year 1 of Lonzo in the NBA has taught the Lakers, it’s that Lonzo can’t do it alone. But, with the right people surrounding him, he could be the catalyst of a renaissance in La La Land.
A veteran go-to scorer
Even the most optimistic of Lakers fans won’t say that Lonzo Ball is a bucket-getter. A guard who is coming off a season in which he shot only 36.0 percent from the field is definitely not from the same cloth Kobe Bryant was cut.
Lonzo’s three-point shooting woes have been a favorite subject of his naysayers long before Adam Silver called his name in the 2017 NBA Draft. If you’re going to pan Lonzo, go think of something else to loathe about his game because criticizing his ability – or lack thereof – to constantly knock down treys is now officially a tired act.
Lonzo can still develop a respectable perimeter game, but assuming the Lakers don’t have that much patience to wait for that to happen, it’s time for them to get Lonzo a proven scorer. Remember, the 2018-19 season is the last guaranteed year on Lonzo’s four-year rookie deal with the Lakers (Los Angeles has the options to pick Lonzo’s salary up in 2019 and 2020).
Lonzo excels the most when he’s trying to elevate the plays of those around him, but with a scorer who can take so much of opposing teams’ attention without relying on Lonzo, the Lakers could lift some pressure off the shoulders of their young point guard.
While this might sound as though we are oblivious of the fact that the Lakers have Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram, a veteran scorer like Paul George is the type who does not need to adjust to the rest of the league adjusting to him. In his many years in the league, George has faced every possible defensive setup from opposing teams and still manages to play at an All-Star level. Kuzma and Ingram played well in 2017-18, but how well are they going to perform next season when opponents have finer tuned defenses designed to slow them down?
Non-inertia ball players
Lonzo is not being compared to Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd for nothing. Notwithstanding his lack of scoring, Lonzo Ball’s ability to set up plays and find open teammates explain why he remains an asset for the Lakers. For the Lakers to continue capitalizing on that aspect of Ball’s game, their players will have to be in constant motion because more often than not, Lonzo will get them the rock once they set themselves in good positions to score.
Lonzo led the Lakers this season in assist percentage; 29.2 percent of baskets made by his teammates when he’s on the floor came from his dimes.
During his one-year stay in UCLA, Lonzo Ball averaged 7.7 assists per game, the most in the nation. That year, UCLA’s offense was ranked second overall by KenPom largely because of how Ball orchestrated their offensive attacks by constantly finding his teammates for high-percentage shots at the rim. In fact, UCLA finished the 2016-17 season 16th out of over 350 schools in percent of assisted shots at the rim, per Hoop-Math. Without much doubt, that can mostly be attributed to Lonzo.
Before Lonzo first wore a Bruins uniform, UCLA was only 98th in the nation in KenPom’s adjusted tempo. After Lonzo’s first and only season in UCLA, the Bruins’ tempo jumped to 20th. There are other reasons why that happened, but it can’t be denied that it was mostly the product of how Lonzo directed the offense and dictated the pace of the game.
To a lesser degree, the same impact of Ball was felt by the Lakers. A year prior to drafting Lonzo, the Lakers had a relative pace of 2.1. In Lonzo’s first season with the Lakers, that figure jumped to 3.0.
Again, there were other factors contributing to that, but it’s also not a coincidence that the team’s relative pace rose to its highest in four years during Lonzo’s introductory season in the NBA. The Lakers need to sustain their pace in order for Lonzo to continue weaving his magic.
The Lakers finished the regular season third in pace but they lost some speed in the frontcourt when they traded Larry Nance Jr. to the Cleveland Cavaliers just before the trade deadline. Without Nance Jr., the Lakers were left with a slow pair of big wheels in Channing Frye and Brook Lopez. Lopez and Frye are set to be free agents this coming summer, so the Lakers could find faster and younger replacements for the two veteran biggies.
The Lakers wanted and expected Lonzo Ball to play like a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2017-18, but he was not even best rookie on the team. The promise is there for Lonzo, but he will have to show a big progression next season. Hopefully for Ball’s sake, the talents the Lakers put around him starting next season will bring out his max potential.