Lonzo Ball is one of the most controversial players in the history of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. He is only 21 and in his second NBA season, but fans have already made up their mind that they love him or hate him, with very little in between.
On his part, Ball says little, works hard, and has shown an impressive ability to impact games in many different ways. This has already been an odd season for Ball.
He was sidelined during the offseason and missed most of preseason while recovering from knee surgery. The Lakers signed former All-Star and NBA champion Rajon Rondo, and almost immediately the whispers began that he could supplant Ball as the starting point guard.
When the season began, it was indeed Rondo in the starting lineup. But as it turns out, Rondo has been gone more than he has been around, suiting up for only 11 of 30 games so far this season.
His absence has hurt the team, but it presented a big opportunity for Ball to start and play a much bigger role than he would have been afforded with Rondo around. On top of all that, Ball thrives with the basketball in his hands so he can push the pace and initiate the offense.
With the arrival of LeBron James, however, that all had to change, and Ball’s game had to adjust. In addition, with Rondo out, Brandon Ingram turned into a ball-dominant player, further diminishing his ability to impact the games.
But with Rondo and Ingram both out for long stretches this season, Ball has had to contend with James only, and this past week there were signs that they have started to play better together. The Lakers went 2-2 this past week, but Ball had a strong and at times, astonishing, impact on the games.
The team’s win on the road in Charlotte was one of their best efforts of the season. While there were a number of contributors, including James who had a triple-double, Ball’s imprint on the game was huge, as he had his first-triple double of the season. He was aggressive on offense, scoring inside and outside and finishing with 16 points, to go along with 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 5 steals and 2 blocks.
But those were not even his biggest contribution to the win. The Hornets’ Kemba Walker is an All-Star point guard who is having the best season of his career, entered the game averaging 26 points, nearly 5 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game.
Ball literally shut him down, as Walker finished with only 4 points on 2-of-13 shooting from the floor, 3 assists and 1 rebound. If ever there was a masterful defensive effort, it was Ball’s performance that night.
That was Ball at his best, and it was pretty incredible. His ability to impact games other than by scoring is indeed transcendent, to use a term that General Manager Rob Pelinka applied to Ball when he was drafted.
If Ball could average 14 points a game, he really could be the point guard that fans were hoping he would become. Even though the Lakers’ week was up and down, Ball played well on a consistent basis. Against the Miami Heat to start the week, he played 37 minutes and had 10 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks, and only 1 turnover.
In the follow-up game in Houston, the entire team struggled under the weight of missed free throws, turnovers, and too many fouls, but Ball still managed to contribute 7 points, 3 assists, 8 rebounds and 1 steal. He bounced back the next game with his big effort against the Hornets.
To finish the week, the Lakers were blown out by the Washington Wizards in one of their poorest showings of the year. James was held to 13 points, and the entire team played with little energy. Ball, however, was one of few players who did his job, finishing with 10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks.
He and his fellow guards all struggled to defend John Wall, who went wild with 40 points. Wall is a streaky five-time All-Star who when he is feeling it, like he was from the opening tipoff against the Lakers, he cannot be stopped by anyone.
Going into the season, it was anticipated that the Lakers would get their best defense at the guard position from Josh Hart, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and even Rondo. Yet, Hart and Caldwell-Pope have struggled on defense for much of the season, and Rondo, when he has played, does not have the same defensive skills he once possessed.
As it turns out, Ball is probably the team’s best defender along with JaVale McGee. It has gotten to the point that Ball impacts game consistently with his defense, along with the steals and blocks he seems to get every night.
If Ball could just learn to attack the rim and score more confidently in the paint – and do it on a nightly basis, and not just occasionally – he could indeed turn out to be a heck of a player. He doesn’t resemble anyone’s idea of a modern point guard, but when he is aggressive, his ability to impact games in so many different ways is impressive.