Lonzo Ball and the 2018 Lakers: How Hollywood’s Big Baller is Making His Mark
Lonzo Ball in Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles is looking like a match made in Laker heaven. It’s a symbiotic relationship with each adding to the fuel of the other: Lonzo has all of the pressure he could wish for, his Big Baller Brand camp has a platform for promotion and the Lakers have a young franchise cornerstone with popularity befitting Hollywood and potentially the talent to continue the Showtime and Kobe Bryant Laker dynasties. Off-court and on-paper everything adds up, but naturally it is the on-court production that counts.
For all the optimism surrounding the Lakers coming into the season, multiple losing streaks have amplified criticism of Lonzo ranging from dissecting his inability to shoot to critiquing his potential as a championship team leader. LaVar Ball’s unceasing bravado and confidence in his son’s talents have painted a target on Lonzo’s back that opposing teams are eager to take sights at on a nightly basis. Amidst all the possible distractions that come with being “the Man” in the city of angels, Lonzo simply continues to do what he knows best: play basketball. At least when he’s able to. Due to a shoulder sprain, the often-hyped and maligned point guard has started to miss playing time for the first time this season, giving critics and fans alike the chance to put his development and season into perspective.
Ball’s shoulder injury has given a large enough sample size to gauge what his effect on the Lakers really is. Up to this point in the season, the biggest critique of Ball has been his shooting percentage and his unwillingness or inability (depending on who you ask) to score — two fair critiques from the beginning of the year that are now beginning to feel outdated. Lesson learned: Don’t jump to conclusions in the NBA’s first few weeks. Remember when the Magic were stting atop the East?
Since October, Lonzo has seen a rise in every major offensive category and that paints the picture of a player gaining confidence and getting situated within the NBA’s rhythm.
The most impressive part of his development has been the consistency in the rebounding and assist departments. His effort and willingness to get his teammates involved has not wavered regardless of his shooting. He firmly grasps the team concept while understanding that the shooting and scoring will come. That is maturity beyond his years.
To say his absence is the sole reason for the worst Lakers stretch of the season would be incorrect, but it is impossible to deny that his vacancy from the floor feels the most impactful. Those willing to shrug off Lonzo’s impact will argue that the latest losing streak isn’t the first and probably won’t be the last, but the issues surrounding this specific stretch directly correlate to Lonzo’s style of play. Pace and space have been a problem with Lonzo on the bench with lively ball movement falling to the wayside in favor of inefficient isolation play in which too much energy is exerted for the sake of bad shots. The Lakers are assisting on only 53.1% of made field goals compared to 58.8% with Ball on the floor while averaging 5 fewer possessions per 48 minutes while he’s been out. Turnovers have also seen an uptick with Lonzo off the floor: 15 per 100 possessions bumping up to 17. Although the Lakers have only averaged about 12 turnovers per game during Lonzo’s injury, this can be attributed to a slower pace of play (as fewer offensive chances and less passing means that there are fewer opportunities to turn the ball over). Despite struggling to move the ball, the Lakers might be missing Lonzo’s defense just as much as his offense.
Over the same three months, Lonzo has exceeded expectations on the defensive end. Expressing the same type of creativity as he does on offense, Lonzo’s length and court awareness helped propel the Lakers to a top ten defense early in the year. The surprising number of steals and blocks over his first three months are a testament to how hard and active Ball truly plays.
One by one, the holes in Lonzo’s game are being filled. 31 contests in, his presence and effect on the team becomes more apparent with each game he misses. The lack of ball movement and imagination on offense with Lonzo out can’t be denied. He’s like a really good bass player in a rock band: he’s felt more than he’s heard, which falls right in line with his reserved personality. Just don’t let that quiet demeanor fool you. Remember, this kid is taking on Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour while reviving a storied franchise. He’s writing a script worthy of the big screen. A perfect match for Hollywood’s Showtime Lakers.