Of any and all of the problems the Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers had with Lonzo Ball this season, selfishness wasn’t one of them. But during his exit interview, Johnson indicated he wants that to change.
“I want him to be a little more selfish next season, because Lonzo can score,” Johnson said. “I don’t need him to score a lot of points, what I’m saying is when you attack, the defense is now playing him for the pass.
“So when he’s driving to the basket he’s got to go in with the thought of scoring. Once he starts doing that, it’s going to change how they defend him at the rim.”
That isn’t a typical criticism for high lottery picks like Ball, who went No. 2 in the 2017 NBA Draft. Many rookies see the glare of the spotlight of the NBA and look to run towards the attention and build their brand by putting up the biggest scoring numbers possible.
Ball didn’t have that problem in the slightest, with six Lakers averaging more field goal attempts per game than the first-year floor general’s 10.8.
A big reason for that were Ball’s shooting struggles. Among players to appear in more than 20 games, Ball shot a team-low 36 percent from the field while only managing to hit 30.5 percent of his threes.
So just shooting more won’t solve Ball’s issues. He’ll have to develop his overall scoring game. Ball said that he wouldn’t be changing his shooting form this summer, a plan Johnson, general manager Rob Pelinka and head coach Luke Walton all support, but with caveats.
Johnson still called for Ball to work on developing a few more shots, including a floater and mid-range jumper.
But even though Johnson thinks Ball has plenty to work on, he still felt his first draft pick “handled himself well” despite facing the most pressure for any Lakers rookie since maybe Johnson himself.
“One thing about Lonzo is you don’t have to worry about him. He’s his own man, and he has great passion and love for the Lakers,” Johnson said. “He came in with this big bang and high expectations from everybody, and I think he was able to live up to a lot of the expectations, but it was cut short because he got injured.
“I think when you look at his stat line, it’s impressive. We have two of the best rebounding guards in this league. Lonzo being one, Josh Hart the other, and you think about how he makes his teammates better, Lonzo was a master at that.”
Ball’s mastery was reflected in the Lakers having 60.6 percent of their baskets assisted while Ball was on the floor, the second-best rate on the team behind Tyler Ennis. The Lakers never assisted less than when Ball sat, 56.5 percent of their baskets, the biggest swing on the team.
Statistics like that give Johnson confidence that Ball can still be as good as the Lakers hoped when they drafted him last summer.
“It was a good meeting, and a tough meeting. I think when you have to talk directly to a player about what they have to improve on, I think sometimes that can be tough, because we like him so much and we want him to be great. He wants to be great,” Johnson said.
“Our jobs are to help him to get there, and you’re going to see from this season to next season, you’re going to see an improved Lonzo Ball.”
And maybe, just maybe, a more selfish one.