Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson ended the team’s introductory press conference for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball by smiling and asking the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft to not break all of his records.
That was high praise coming from the best point guard in Lakers and arguably NBA history. Comparisons to Johnson were prevalent prior to the Lakers selecting Ball with their first pick in the Draft.
They further intensified once Ball joined the organization, and the Lakers brass certainly did not shy away from placing heightened expectations on his shoulders.
While many have moved to draw comparisons between Ball and Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar explained on the The Herd with Colin Cowherd why he doesn’t believe there are any similarities between the point guards as rookies:
“Not at all. None. Different player, different approach to the game. Some of the same talents, but different players. Magic was able to rebound and once he got a rebound, that was also our point guard. So we could run. It really gave us the ability that other guards would not be able to do.
“If I got switched off onto Magic’s guy because he got away from him, Magic could go in and defend my man, box him out and make sure he didn’t get the rebound. Then I was on the wing on the fast break. And we could play like that because I had that kind of skill, I could fit in there. When you’re on one wing and James Worthy is on the other, you have a good chance of having a good fast break.”
Ball certainly hasn’t had the same success doing it as Johnson did as a rookie — the Lakers rank 28th in the NBA in offensive efficiency — but his ability to kick-start their break by rebounding has actually been one of the team’s best weapons.
But while Ball may show some similarity to Johnson in that way, Abdul-Jabbar is correct in highlighting Johnson’s ability to better defend players down in the paint. Nonetheless, Ball has actually been surprisingly stout on defense for a rookie.
And the Lakers are marginally better on defense with him on the floor. Johnson’s edge on defense can primarily be tied to his being several inches taller than Ball.
That Abdul-Jabbar saying that he doesn’t see any similarities between the two rookies should hardly be slight to Ball. Johnson is one of the greatest players to ever set foot on an NBA floor. Ball was never going to reach his level during his rookie season.
If he lives up to his full potential, the time to compare to two will come. For now, it’s still very early.