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As you have surely read, here and elsewhere, Lonzo Ball is having a rough go of it early in his NBA career. The former UCLA standout has produced flashes; posting two triple-doubles faster than anyone not named LeBron James is nothing to sneeze at. But his persistent shooting woes and historically inefficient offensive play, coupled with the fact that the Lakers have been 4.1 points per 100 possessions better with him off the court, have led at least some fans and observers to wonder whether L.A. might be better off letting Lonzo take a seat rather than continue to start and log 33 minutes a night.
Lakers coach Luke Walton has chosen to keep running Lonzo out there so he can keep learning from his mistakes — including the ones you can’t experience from (or near) the bench — in hopes that the 2017 NBA draft’s No. 2 overall pick will come out of his career-opening funk with a clearer picture of what’s expected of him and how to move in the big leagues. You will be stunned to learn that Lonzo’s father, LaVar Ball — sorry, Coach Kerr — has a different view of how Walton and his coaching staff should approach his son!
“Go get the W. Do whatever it takes. That’s why I’m down here saying, ‘Rebound,'” [LaVar Ball] continued. “[Lonzo’s] been away from me too long. I see tendencies in his game — they’re trying to baby him a little bit.” […]
“They’re soft. They don’t know how to coach my son. I know how to coach him,” LaVar Ball said. “I tell him to go get the victory. Stop messing around.”
Does he have a problem with coach Luke Walton?
“No, I have a problem with losing,” Ball responded. […]
“What I mean by babying [Lonzo], ‘He’ll figure it out,'” Ball said. “It ain’t about that. ‘Be patient with him?’ Ain’t no patience if you’re winning.”
“They’re letting it go too easy, saying they’re a young team,” he continued. “Forget about that! Put the [onus] on them. Say, ‘You guys need to win. You’ve got enough talent. Win some games.'”
In fairness to Walton and his staff, the Lakers have won some games. A young, rebuilding team pegged by many to rank among the West’s worst again this year has opened the season a surprisingly decent 7-10, sitting just a half-game out of the conference’s No. 8 seed. They’ve struggled to produce in tight games, getting outscored by nearly 24 points per 100 possessions in “clutch” situations (games in which the score is within five points in the final five minutes), according to NBA.com’s stats. But they’re getting balanced contributions, with seven players scoring in double figures led by surprising star rookie Kyle Kuzma, and continue to hustle on defense, holding opponents to the NBA’s 10th-lowest field goal percentage (and lowest 3-point percentage) en route to a No. 4 ranking in points allowed per possession. They’ve been better, on balance, than just about anyone would’ve projected before the start of the season.
Except, it seems, for LaVar.
That stands to reason. For one thing, he’s famously prone to bombast and overstatement. For another, he predicted the Lakers would go to the playoffs as soon as they drafted Lonzo. (See previous sentence.) And, of course, he’s never been shy about sharing his views on how his sons and their teams should be coached.
That said, this specific thing is one where it might behoove us to listen to LaVar Ball. When it comes to brand management, building an apparel empire, conducting foreign policy or the proper presentation of politeness in the aftermath of international incidents, your mileage may (and perhaps should!) vary. When it comes to the training and coaching of his oldest son, though, maybe it’s not too bad an idea to bend an ear to the guy who’s been training and coaching him for his entire life.
Players respond differently to different approaches. Thus far, the only consistent thing about Lonzo’s NBA play — outside of the fact that he keeps rebounding and passing even when his shot’s not falling, putting him on track to become just the fourth rookie ever to average seven boards and seven dimes per game — is that he’s seemed to respond best when fighting out of the corner after a down game.
After Patrick Beverley welcomed him to the NBA by eating him alive, Ball bounced back with 29 points on 27 shots, 11 rebounds and nine assists the next night. After conceding in Boston that his shooting troubles were weighing on him, he flirted with a triple-double against the Washington Wizards and got one against the Milwaukee Bucks. After a whisper-quiet game against Philly and walking away from the fray against Phoenix, he steps up against Denver.
If Lonzo does work best when responding to adversity, maybe LaVar’s got a point, and getting on him more severely would produce the best results in the here and now. Walton, though, is charged with building something sustainable in L.A., not just trying to get more wins today. And from where Walton sits, there’s no shortage of adversity in the day-to-day operation of a young, sub-.500 team from which Ball and his fellow precocious Lakers can learn.
“As you’re building, you’re on that path. It’s never [smooth],” Walton said, according to Pincus. “It’s never just you get it and all of a sudden you don’t have slippage anymore. Every team goes through it. The important thing for us is that we learn from our mistakes, we keep our head up, we keep working and grinding away to get where we all want to be.”
Nobody disputes that LaVar Ball played a significant role in getting his first-born son where he wanted to be — in the NBA, making millions of dollars to be the point guard of the Lakers. And everybody knows that where Lonzo is right now — bricking jumper after jumper and free throw after free throw, earning more headlines for his struggles than his triumphs — isn’t where anyone wants him to wind up. The question now is whether the coach who got Lonzo to the pros, or the one tasked with teaching him how to be a pro, is best equipped to get the Laker point guard past his current struggles and to his hoped-for destination.
One thing that seems clear: if Lonzo keeps missing seven out of every 10 shots and the Lakers stay under .500, the grumbling out of the Big Baller camp will only get louder … which could create some headaches in the locker rooms and executive suites at Staples Center.
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