After displaying glaring improvements at the beginning of the 2019-20 NBA campaign, New Orleans Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball regressed to his old ways inside the bubble at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Shooting woes once again plagued the 22-year-old playmaker, who once again looked like his inconsistent self during his early years with the Los Angeles Lakers.
A report from The Athletic’s David Aldridge even claimed that people inside the Disney facilities thought Lonzo Ball looked mentally and physically “checked out” the entire time. Moreover, reports over Ball’s supposed lack of work ethic once again came to light.
Prior to the unprecedented hiatus, Lonzo Ball found a second wind in his first year in Louisiana, averaging career-highs of 12.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 1.4 steals.
Apart from his brilliant facilitating, fans and pundits were in awe of his altered shooting mechanics and much-improved efficiency. Lonzo Ball made 41.2 percent of his field goals and punished defenders for leaving him wide open by recording a 38.3 percent clip from deep.
Unfortunately for the Pels, the 6-foot-6 guard couldn’t sustain that same level of play in Orlando.
Entering NOLA’s final game of the season against the Orlando Magic on Thursday, Lonzo Ball could only muster 5.7 points, 7.0 assists, and 5.3 rebounds on a horrendous 19.2 percent shooting from past the arc in 6 games.
He scored in double figures for the first time (finishing with 16 points) against the Sacramento Kings last Wednesday, but NOLA was no longer in the postseason race by then. His lackluster showing played a factor in New Orleans’ elimination, despite having a rather lenient schedule compared to the other West contenders.
“I feel like I let the team down. I know I’m a big part of it. Usually, when I play well, we win and, obviously, I didn’t play well this trip. We’re going home early and I have to live with that,” Lonzo Ball said of his struggles since the restart.
While he did an admirable job for NOLA in the first half of the season, Lonzo Ball’s disappearing act when the team needed him the most is certainly a cause for concern for the Pels moving forward.
The former 2nd overall pick is set to become a restricted free agent by the end of the 2020-21 campaign.
Despite his offensive limitations, Lonzo Ball would still be a hot commodity in the market given his playmaking prowess and defensive capabilities. Plus, his expiring contract would be enticing for a lot of teams next year.
If the Pelicans do intend to get rid of the UCLA alum and cash-in on value, this offseason would be the best time to do so. However, that would certainly be a grave mistake for the Pelicans brass.
Lonzo Ball was unfairly branded a “bust” in Los Angeles simply because most Lakers fans expected him to be an A1 bucket-getter who could drop 20+ a game on every given night.
People should realize by now that he’ll never be an elite scorer, nor was he intended to be one in the highest stage of basketball.
In an era were point guards chuck 20 shots a night, Lonzo Ball’s game is breath of fresh air. He is among the remaining few with a true pass-first mentality, blessed with amazing court vision and feel for the game. At 6-foot-6, he possesses great size for his position and has the ability to help out the frontcourt with his rebounding.
Lonzo Ball is also an underrated defender, constantly putting pressure on opposing guards with his pesky way of disrupting passing lanes.
Those who are calling for his head right now are once again concerned with his inability to knock down open jumpers. Guards who can’t shoot in today’s game, after all, are indeed a liability.
But after overcoming his naysayers and proving that he is a starting-caliber point guard at this level, Lonzo Ball deserves some slack.
While his point-production and shooting percentage took a major dip, his rebounds, assists, and steals were still right around the same average.
Again, those are the areas that the Pelicans are paying him for. All-Star Brandon Ingram and super rookie Zion Williamson are already there to carry the offensive load. They still have guys like Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick to be that 3rd option on offense.
Still, it’s a must for Lonzo Ball to at least be able to drain wide-open looks on a consistent basis, just to keep defenses honest.
Most NBA teams continue their search for that one unselfish player who could truly act as their floor general night in and night out. The Pels already have theirs with Lonzo Ball.
At the end of the day, he is still the prototype facilitator who can set the table for Ingram and Williamson in the long run. Zion has been the recipient of a lot of easy lobs courtesy of Ball this year. BI became the go-to scorer that he is now because he didn’t have to worry about creating his own shot.
The Lakers have already made the mistake of giving up on Lonzo Ball quite early.
With hard work and proper guidance, Ball finally found his footing in the league under the Pelicans’ system. Why should NOLA let other teams reap those rewards?
Make no mistake about it, Lonzo Ball still has a lot of work to do to refine his game. But it will be in the Pelicans’ best interest to keep him around and further aid his development.