The Resurgence of Lonzo Ball in New Orleans
Lonzo Ball continues to be one of the more polarizing figures in basketball circles. Some celebrate Ball for being the consummate “pass-first” point guard whose rare combination of measurables and acumen make him an invaluable asset on both sides of the ball. For others, the Ball name represents something else altogether; he is the byproduct of the Ballislife/hoopmixtape era, a generation of self-aggrandizing, overexposed social media personalities who are just as concerned with brand positioning as they are with their statline. Somewhere in between these two dramatically different portraits lies Lonzo Ball, who in his 3rd season seems to be finally turning the corner in New Orleans.
Expectations were high for Ball coming out of UCLA, standing at 6’6” and weighing 180 pounds, Ball mesmerized crowds at Pauley Pavillion with his passing and defensive prowess during his lone season for the Bruins. All seemed to be going well when Ball was drafted 2nd overall in the 2017 NBA Draft by his hometown L.A. Lakers.
It was supposed to be a dream situation for Ball, the Chino Hills product got to stay home yet again and play for one of the league’s bluebloods while operating under the tutelage of then Team President Magic Johnson. Head coach Luke Walton had just defected from the record-breaking, world champion Golden State Warriors staff and seemed primed to implement an offense that tailor-made for Lonzo Ball’s skillset. With all of these things working in Ball’s favor, why didn’t Lonzo find success in LA?
Lonzo had a steady first year quietly compiling 10.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 7.2 APG, and 1.7 SPG. Ball’s numbers weren’t particularly gaudy but they were an accurate reflection of his all-around impact. The numbers on Ball only tell one side of the story, Ball was sidelined for a combined total of 30 games due to shoulder and knee injuries and shot .451 from the free-throw line which is abysmal for a starting guard. Ball didn’t do much to ease concerns over his shooting motion, as his numbers from the perimeter were less than impressive. Overall, Ball’s rookie campaign compared favorably to that of Jason Kidd who averaged 11.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 7.7 APG as a rookie.
Many of the concerns surrounding Ball revolved around off-court issues, particularly continuous comments being made by his father LaVar Ball. LaVar didn’t waste any time making enemies in the Lakers' front office and across the league, from Steph Curry to Michael Jordan, no one was spared from Ball’s vitriol. LeBron’s arrival in LA only magnified the lens on Ball, like D’Angelo Russell before him, Ball had to make adjustments playing with one of the game’s greatest players. Slowly but surely, Ball and the young Lakers core started finding their stride before injuries and a looming Anthony Davis trade ultimately derailed their season.
Now in New Orleans, Ball has performed admirably halfway through his first season. Lonzo is averaging career highs in PPG, 3P%, and FT%, which speaks to the effort Ball has put into revamping his jump shot. The statistical changes may seem minuscule but the benefits being reaped from the changes in his shot motion are undeniable. Ball’s aggression has always been a point of contention amongst his critics, this season Ball has slowly begun taking strides toward becoming the perimeter threat needed to keep defenders honest on the perimeter. Ball’s continued to work on his body has proved beneficial, as he is getting to the lane and finishing in traffic with more consistency.
While much of the hype entering the season surrounded Zion Williamson, Ball and his ex-Laker teammate Brandon Ingram have become the faces of the franchise in his absence. Lonzo looks liberated in New Orleans, free from the expectations that come with being the hometown kid and seemingly emancipated from the pressures that come with being the face of the Big Baller Brand, Ball is starting to hit his stride in New Orleans.