Lonzo Ball may be the most polarizing and controversial player the Los Angeles Lakers have ever drafted. He is praised by teammates and opponents, but fans tend to either love him and favor making him the leader of the team or hate him and want him traded immediately.
For his part, the laid-back Ball takes it all in stride, blocks out the noise, and quietly does what he does best, which is play the game. Some of Ball’s struggles this season have not been of his own making.
He suffered through an injury-plagued rookie year which ended with a hurt knee that required surgery over the summer. While other players were working hard over the long offseason to perfect their craft, Ball was severely limited in what he could do.
Then came the announcement in July that the Lakers signed Rajon Rondo in free agency. Rondo is a former All-Star and NBA champion whose skill set is very similar to Ball’s and who still plays the game at a high level.
This generated a good deal of drama as fans and the media debated who should be the starter, Ball or Rondo? When the regular season began, the answer provided by the coaching staff was that Rondo would start.
But early into the season he spit in Chris Paul’s face setting off a wild skirmish resulting in Rondo receiving a three-game suspension. Ball found himself back in the starting lineup, played well, and the Lakers won some games while Rondo and teammate Brandon Ingram were suspended.
Ball continued to start when Rondo returned but the latter got more and more minutes and eventually Ball was not playing at all in the fourth quarter of games. Ball took it all in stride and complimented Rondo as a great player and mentor.
Then fate intervened again, and Rondo broke his hand. Scheduled to miss four to five weeks, Ball was again thrust into the spotlight and was expected to play bigger minutes.
The Lakers have tried Brandon Ingram at backup point guard, which worked well last season, but so far he’s been a turnover machine who also has a tendency to hold the ball.
Ball started this past week with arguably his best game of the year against the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road. He finished with 15 points, the second-highest total on the team behind LeBron James, on 7-of-11 shooting.
He also had 7 rebounds, 6 assists and a steal. Everyone has implored Ball to be more aggressive, and that is precisely what he was in that game.
The Lakers came back a few nights later and beat the Utah Jazz at Staples Center. Ball was in foul trouble during the second half, but he still finished with 9 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists and a block.
For the second straight game he was aggressive on the offensive end, which is precisely how everyone wants him to play. Mid-week, LeBron James remarked that Ball does not realize how good he really is.
In the final game of the week, a disappointing loss to the Orlando Magic, Ball had the identical stats that he put up against Utah, 9 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists and a block.
Once again, at various points of the game, he was aggressively looking to score by attacking the rim rather than settling for three-point shots. He made some nice moves to finish that energize fans in attendance.
In the Lakers’ recent wins, Ball was playing big minutes in the fourth quarter. Against the Magic, head coach Luke Walton made the unusual decision to go away with what was working and bench Ball who did not play at all in the fourth quarter.
It is typical of the way that Ball has been treated, or some would say mishandled, this year, with very little consistency in terms of his role or his minutes.
Ball is not going to have number of assists that were projected when he came out of UCLA after his freshman year. That is because he is playing on a team with ball dominant players like James, Rondo and Ingram.
In fact, it often looks like Ball and Kyle Kuzma are playing one kind of game where the ball does not stick and moves around quickly, while the rest of the team is playing isolation.
The other problem Ball faces is that he is playing for a coaching staff that can’t quite decide when to play him, in what role, and for how many minutes.
The Lakers had a winning record this past week but it consisted of two ugly wins against the Cavaliers and the Jazz and a terrible loss to the Magic. Putting aside James, no one played all that well this week, at least not on a consistent basis.
Ball, however, showed a new aggressiveness that fans and teammates have been begging to see and on the whole he showed good improvement.
For his solid showing, and the promise of better things ahead if the coaching staff does not interfere, Lonzo Ball is a deserving Player of the Week for the Lakers.