The Los Angeles Lakers have had an up-and-down season in their first year with rookie point guard Lonzo Ball. The UCLA product’s talent is obvious, but Los Angeles has still mostly struggled to a 19-29 record that leaves them well short of a postseason berth in the always-competitive Western Conference.
Still, the Lakers’ struggles are hardly Ball’s fault. The team only just recently won their first games without him in the lineup as he continues to miss time with what has now been dubbed an MCL sprain. And Ball still boasts the highest net rating among Lakers to play significant minutes.
The team is outscored by just 1.2 points per 100 possessions while Ball is on the floor, compared to five when he sits, the highest swing on the team. It’s become somewhat trite to chalk that up to Ball ‘just making winning plays’ and other such intangibles while he’s struggled to shoot the ball.
But during an appearance on “The Hoopshype Podcast with Alex Kennedy,” Larry Nance, Jr. that shooting isn’t everything, and that Ball’s other qualities are what make players love to play with him:
“He makes the game so easy – not just for me, but for everybody. And it seems so simple because he just always makes the right pass. It seems easy and you think, ‘Alright… everyone should just make the right pass.’ But clearly not everyone can do it. He’s one of the only guys – if not the only guy – who can do it. When he starts making his passes and kicking it ahead to different guys, it’s contagious. Having him in the game just makes everybody so much more unselfish. … [One of our strengths] is getting out and running. When we get a stop or we get a steal, we get out and run whereas a lot of the older teams don’t really feel like doing that. When we play a team that’s significantly older than us or really anyone, for that matter, since we’re one of the youngest teams in the league, we go, especially when Zo is out there. We push the break and try to make it an exhausting night for whoever we’re playing.”
The Lakers rank first in the league in pace, averaging 103.22 possessions per game as they look to run on every rebound (and even some made baskets). Ball is the Lakers’ best player at kickstarting that break, and it’s one of the many reasons why the team will miss him whenever he’s out.
When Ball will return remains a mystery, but Nance makes clear what the eye test would tell anyone watching: the Lakers won’t be the same team until then.
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