Magic Johnson to Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers
Magic Johnson pointed his finger at the wall of the Los Angeles Lakers' training complex, where the 16-time NBA champions' nine retired numbers hang over the practice court. The pressure was on. The expectations were set. Lonzo Ball is a huge part of Magic Johnson's master plan to bring the Lakers back to championship contention.
Lonzo Ball and the Los Angeles Lakers took home the Summer League MVP award and the Summer League Championship Trophy back to LA last week. Surely, it doesn’t mean much, as it is “just summer league”. However, Lonzo’s overall performance and the effect he had on not only the Lakers, but the fan base is definitely noticeable.
Magic Johnson has praised his prized possession to no end in his first year as the President of Basketball Operations with the Lakers. He has continuously said Lonzo Ball is among the “greats”. He even compared Lonzo to himself, the best point guard in history.
“Just like me, when I got here, there was pressure,” Johnson said of Ball’s summer league prowess -- two triple-doubles and an MVP award. “I was the No. 1 pick. I didn’t care about that. I am going to play my game. Lonzo is going to play his game. The great ones do.”
Today’s NBA is more on focusing who can put the ball into the basket. The current generation is focused on isolation basketball, where breaking down a defender to create a shot opening or penetrating the ball to the paint to kick it out to a shooter has worked for some teams.
Before Michael Jordan’s dominance in the 1990s, there was Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Basketball was played differently. It was an era where team passing and the physicality on defense and rebounding was keys to winning. It was textbook basketball. Yes, you needed skilled and dominant players to win, but the game plan wasn’t tailored on dumping the ball to a guy and watching him go to work from the corner of the three-point line. Every now and then there are teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors who focus on swinging the ball endlessly until they find the right shot, but these are still teams who focus on outscoring and running their opponents off the floor.
Point guards in the NBA today like to score. While they are very good passers by nature, they fall in love with their ability to create a shot for themselves. Some of it is confidence, think Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Isaiah Thomas and Russell Westbrook. And rightfully so, no one would argue the fact they are lethal because they are so dynamic when they are providing offense for their teams. They each have the ability to change the outcome of the game with their shot-making. No one can say Russell Westbrook should do anything different, as he is coming off his first MVP honors this past season. But just imagine how deadly would Russell Westbrook be, if he was to lower his shot totals a tad bit and be more of a willing, trusting passer? Just how dangerous, if Isaiah Thomas, Damian Lillard or Kyrie Irving was focused on being more of a 10 assists point guard, compared to launching 25 shots a game?
Everyone knows Lonzo’s true skills are his passing skills. While everyone is falling in love with his sneaker choice, or taking notice of his funky shot. But where he is truly special, is his high basketball IQ, the ability to ignite an offense and be a true floor general. Lonzo Ball, as advertised, really is a point guard who carries the “Old School” mentality of being a transcendence and gifted passer. Zo is special, he is a point guard who will set you up for success. He doesn't need to score the ball to have an imprint of the game. Ball will eventually bring back the focus of the "pass first" point guard back to the NBA. Zo's going to make passing cool again.
Even if he wasn't credited with an assist, he is often the aggressor to providing the hockey assist, the guy who provided the opening for a teammate to find another teammate for a bucket. He is a selfless leader, who will make the correct play, whether if it’s a pass or a shot, to give the team the best chance to win. Lonzo's impact on the young Lakers squad has already began. Summer league was a small sample size, but anyone who watched college hoops should’ve known Lonzo Ball changed UCLA’s culture with his unselfishness, improving their record to 31-5 from 15-17 the previous season.
Some never had a chance to watch Magic play during his prime, but appreciate greatness. Magic was always credited for the one who started the “Showtime Lakers”. He was the engine who started it all. Magic was the best at making his teammates run, the best at being the best teammate, the best who found the tiny openings leading to a basket, the best ever to passing the basketball. He was the LeBron James of the 1980s.
As for the Lakers’ future, Johnson is optimistic — largely thanks to the arrival and play of his rookie point guard. Many are downplaying the hype because it was just summer league, and it's fair. But Lonzo Ball has changed the Lakers culture. Lonzo Ball isn't great, at least yet. He isn't Magic Johnson, and maybe he doesn't have to be. He just has to play his game. Lonzo Ball just has to be Lonzo Ball. Thus far, it looks very promising.
Yes, the hype is out of control, but Lonzo has a mentor. The mentor being the best point guard in history, in Ervin Magic Johnson.