We’re 19 games into Lonzo Ball’s NBA career, and everyone from the Lakers’ kit man to LaVar, of course, to Luke Walton to Stephen A. Smith to Newsweek to LeBron James to Homer Simpson has given a take on the Lakers’ rookie point guard. (N.B., the Lakers’ kit man’s views on Ball are unknown but it can only be a matter of time before LaVar drags his boys onto that show).
There’s so much hot air around Ball that it can become disorienting to listen to the debate—so Lord knows what it’s like actually being the most-scrutinized rookie in NBA history. The noise also distracts from the fact that, almost a quarter of the way through his first season in the league, Ball has built up a sample size that at least allows us to make educated guesses about the player he is going to be.
Wednesday night in Sacramento provided an example of the Ball Confusion. The Kings beat the Lakers 113-102, largely thanks to a dominant run towards the end of the first quarter. The Lakers got consistent scoring from multiple sources, just not the kind of dominant scoring to erase that 16-2 first-quarter run. Ball outplayed De’Aaron Fox, his high-school mate and the fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft. Fox had 13 points, three assists and four rebounds; Ball scored 11 with 11 assists and seven rebounds. Not so far away from another triple-double, which would have been his third this season.
“Ball’s highlight moment came about four minutes into the second quarter, when he elevated over the 7-foot Cauley-Stein, caught a lob from Corey Brewer and slammed in a one-handed dunk,” Tania Ganguli wrote in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday night. Under that article, as of Thursday morning, is a single comment. “Don't know what to make of Ball so far. Triple doubles are good but, that shot looks so bad!!!” Writes “MBMUser110”. It’s strangely pleasing to find something ‘below the line’ that admits confusion rather than chasing polarization. There’s also an essential truth here about Ball, which is that everyone has an opinion on him, but no one can quite work him out.
Or rather, perhaps, no one can quite work out what he means to the Lakers. Because it’s clear that Ball doesn’t have the game to make the Lakers win this season, unless he miraculously sorts that shot motion out midway through the year. Maybe, even if he does improve his shooting percentage, he’s never going to be a prolific scorer from the backcourt. Ball’s career so far suggests he’s going to be a prolific assist maker, good rebounder and problematic shooter. Is that good enough to meet the Lakers’ expectations—to drive the franchise to the Championships that Magic Johnson wants? That seems the most nebulous—and tantalizing—question of all.
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