The Lonzo Ball Era, Year 1: Success or Failure?
As Lonzo Ball’s rookie season approaches its conclusion in just a few short weeks, we want to take a look at just how successful the number two overall pick has panned out so far. Entering the 2017-18 NBA season, Lonzo Ball arguably came into the league with the most pressure we’ve ever seen placed on a young rookie. His outspoken father stated Lonzo is a better player than Steph Curry, which made him a huge target among his NBA peers. Even the legendary Magic Johnson was quoted as expecting a Lonzo Ball jersey to one day be retired in the Staples Center rafters. Keep in mind, the Los Angeles Lakers only retire jerseys of hall of fame players (Kobe Bryant is widely expected to be a first ballot hall of famer once eligible). Lonzo was the talk of the league at the start of the season and people wanted to know: Will he win Rookie of the Year? Can his awkward shooting form be successful at the NBA level? Will he take the Lakers back to the playoffs? Is he the next Magic Johnson? All this expected of a 19-year-old rookie who hadn’t even played a game yet.
Well Lonzo’s first crack to prove his worth began with the NBA Las Vegas Summer League. The Lakers’ summer squad was selling out the arena and even LeBron James made an unexpected appearance at a game to catch them in action. Lonzo quickly showed potential that the hype was real. He led the Lakers to their first ever Summer League championship and was named the league MVP with averages of 16.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 9.3 assists per game. Although summer league did not reflect the real NBA competition that Lonzo would face on a regular basis, it did provide hope for a Laker fan base that typically expects championship contention year-after-year. The belief for some was that Lonzo might end up taking the league by storm. That is until the real NBA season started.
For many stretches throughout this season, Lonzo’s jumper has simply been broken to say the least. Whether it’s his form, confidence, or ability, it just doesn’t look like he can shoot at the NBA level. The result has been brick after brick on his mid-range range attempts, wide open three pointers, and even free throws. Sometimes defenders will basically dare Lonzo to shoot the ball. Here is a month-by-month breakdown of Lonzo’s shooting percentages over the season thus far:
As you can see, he had a rough start through November but made slight progression in December through January. Lonzo missed 15 games from mid-January through late-February with a sprained MCL but initially shot the ball very well when he returned to the court after the All-Star break. But the month of March hasn’t been too favorable as his shooting seems to have+ regressed after showing signs of hope. On March 22, Lonzo went 1 for 12 from the three point line against the New Orleans Pelicans and he shot 2 for 15 from the field overall. This is just an example of how depressing it can sometimes be to watch Lonzo shoot the ball. His shooting percentages for the season rank near the very bottom of the league. A few sports personalities in the media have even gone as far as describing Lonzo with the dreaded B-word that no rookie wants to hear. Yes that’s right…a BUST.
When you look at his overall game though, calling Lonzo Ball a bust is definitely going too far and one might even say flat out hating. Aside from the horrendous shooting, Lonzo has shown true potential as a solid NBA point guard in every other area. He spent much of the season leading the Lakers in assists, steals, and even rebounds until Julius Randle recently overtook Ball in that category. He most recently put up 12 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 24. Lonzo keeps us on triple-double watch almost regularly. In fact, he became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double in early December when he dropped 19 points, 13 assists, and 12 rebounds along with 3 steals and 3 blocks against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Ball does a great job at managing the pace of the Laker offense and finding the open man with his contagious passing ability. Though he’s shown capabilities of filling the stat sheet in multiple categories, there has often been games in which Lonzo played a great role in dictating his team’s success with minimal scoring and in other ways that do not necessarily appear in the box score. His defense has also been a huge surprise with his tenacity in clogging the passing lanes and finding himself in the right place hustling for loose balls. We’ve even seen a few highlight blocks from Lonzo and he’s second on the team in that category. The Lonzo effect was evident very early after his MCL injury when the Lakers suffered a 9-game losing streak and it almost seemed as if they couldn’t win without him on the floor.
For the season, Lonzo is averaging 10.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 7.0 assists. Solid numbers for a rookie point guard right? These statistics along with his shooting percentages are almost identical to that of Jason Kidd’s rookie season (Ball’s three point percentage and rebounds are actually higher). It is safe to say that Lonzo has shown the potential to live up to the expectations of a high lottery pick. His game is just viewed with a much bigger microscope than most rookies we’ve seen because of the initial hype and of course the mouth of his father. He’s a topic of conversation on national debate shows after almost every Laker game whether he plays good or bad. Do you even remember that there’s another rookie who was drafted number one overall before Lonzo Ball? Markelle Fultz has only appeared in five games this season for the Philadelphia 76ers and is not having a great start to his NBA career. Yet Lonzo has dominated the attention of this year’s NBA rookies, even over those having more success so far such as Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons.
Lonzo Ball does a lot of great things on the court but his biggest flaws are his poor shooting and lack of consistent aggression when driving to the rim. This hesitancy to be aggressive is likely due to a fear of getting fouled and having to shoot free throws that he’ll likely miss. He only attempts 1.4 free throws per game as a result which is not good for a starting point guard. These are all fixable components of his game though. Don’t forget there was a time when LeBron James was not a great jump shooter and even Deandre Jordan can make free throws now. Even when Lonzo’s shot is not falling, he at least has the confidence to keep taking the shots and he deserves credit for that. You can see his confidence is growing game-by-game. Players love playing with Ball because he makes everyone around him better and sky’s the limit to where his game will be in just a few years. There’s great room for improvement with his shooting and hopefully it will definitely be a large component of his off-season training this summer. We’ll give Lonzo a B- grade for his rookie season with the expectation that he will only get better. A successful career is definitely on the horizon for the Lakers’ point guard of the future.