New Orleans is a Fresh Start for Lonzo Ball
When Lonzo Ball was drafted with the second overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, his future looked bright. Throughout the pre-draft process, he and his camp made clear that the Los Angeles Lakers were his dream franchise, and when they called his name, it appeared all the pieces were falling into place.
Instead, both of his first two seasons were cut short by injury, and a storied franchise notorious for its lack of patience with young players decided to win now. As even non-basketball fans know, he was traded to New Orleans this summer in the blockbuster deal that brought Anthony Davis to Los Angeles. Both teams were big winners as the Lakers got a superstar to pair with LeBron James and the Pelicans got the biggest haul in NBA history -- until the Clippers traded for Paul George.
However, what I feel isn’t being talked about nearly enough is just how big of a victory this is for Lonzo. In Hollywood, if you have star potential, then you should be a star. Lonzo played well when he was on the court, but he wasn’t a star. De’Aaron Fox, the second point guard picked -- and four slots later by another California team -- looks like a better pro thus far. Combo guard Donovan Mitchell went eleven picks after Ball and looks like a bonafide superstar. Ball wasn’t even the best Laker from the 2017 draft class in the eyes of many: that would be Kyle Kuzma. Ball went from ‘pieces falling into place’ to ‘everything lining up against him.’
It was even impossible for him to ‘circle the wagons’ because the call was coming from inside the house. While his father’s relentless publicizing succeeded in raising Lonzo’s profile, Lavar’s loud mouth drowned out any support for his young son in the midst of his troubles, and wouldn’t let him just focus on his game. There’s a reason why Lonzo parted ways with Big Baller Brand.
Many speculate that Big Baller Brand shoes, having not been as exhaustively tested and vetted as any of the major brands -- Nike, Adidas, Reebok, even Puma -- weren’t doing Lonzo any favors in the face of his continuing injury troubles. He’s only played a total of 99 games out of a possible 164 so far in his short career. As he closes the book on the Lakers, Lonzo may just find the Pelicans the perfect fit, as they just brought in one of the best athletic trainers in the association in Aaron Nelson - a definite step towards keeping Lonzo on the court.
He’ll also find his on-court situation much improved. Just looking at who he shared the court with in his two seasons, you find a much heftier helping of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope than anyone would like, an out-of-position Brandon Ingram, or an overworked Josh Hart. In New Orleans, he’ll be sharing a backcourt with Jrue Holiday. Holiday has made All-Defensive Teams the last two seasons and was an All-Star in 2013. He averaged a career-high 21.2 points per game last season and is one of the better guards in the league. The opposition won’t be able to focus on Lonzo with Holiday on the floor, which will allow Lonzo to just play his game and get better.
Add in the fact that he’s going to have a freak of nature to feed the ball to in Zion Williamson and that will only help his playmaking. He has another rim-running big in Jaxson Hayes, the eighth overall pick. J.J. Redick is coming to the Bayou to help space the floor. This New Orleans team is amazingly deep and versatile: if Lonzo can stay on the floor, he can make a leap this season out of the shadows he was in on the Lakers.
Yes, Lonzo needs to continue to work on his shooting, but he’s not a lost cause. He improved his field goal percentage from 36 percent his rookie year to 40.6 percent his sophomore year. He also got better from beyond the arc, going from 30.5 percent to 32.9 percent. Now, if he could only learn to make a free throw he’d be set -- 43.7 percent from the charity stripe ain’t gonna cut it. Part of being a good point guard is being able to ice the other team at the line. Right now, he can’t do that.
His all-around statistics are impressive as he’s averaging 10 points, 6.4 assists, 6.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 0.6 of a block; Lonzo can clearly do it all. His defense is advanced for such a young player, so if his offense rises up to meet it, the sky is the limit.
He’s had a lot of pressure put on him as the lead guard. Moving away from L.A. to a place like New Orleans, separating himself from his dad and his brand and being able to focus on his game will do wonders for Lonzo. Just don’t tell him about Mardi Gras.