Four months ago, Lonzo Ball took his fair share of blame for his and the Pelicans’ poor performance in the bubble right on the chin. Ball admitted to letting the team down as New Orleans sputtered across the finish line without much of a playoff challenge.
Fast forward to Friday where Ball looked like a refreshed and focused player. At least for one night, gone was the player looking to set up a teammate versus creating for himself. In his place was a version of Ball that was aggressive, appropriately selfish and impactful, scoring 19 points on 11 field goal attempts as the Pelicans finished their second and final preseason game with a 127-113 win over Milwaukee.
“I think I’ve got the ball more and I’ve just had time to work on my game,” Ball said of the difference between the four months. “In the bubble, we just kind of got thrown out there and started playing. This was my first off-season (that) I got to work on some things. I slowed down and get to my strengths and just worked on my game and I think it’s going to show this year.”
A healthy off-season has been a rarity for Ball due to injuries. But through not only two preseason games but training camp as a whole, Ball has been a bright spot for the Pelicans and Stan Van Gundy in his first year in charge.
“Lonzo Ball is a really good basketball player,” Van Gundy said. “I mean, a really good basketball player. Smart, skilled, sees the game. There’s not much he can’t do. He’s starting to be a little bit more aggressive taking the ball to the basket. He’s like anybody, he’s got things he can work on but I’m a big believer in Lonzo Ball and his abilities. He’s keeping his turnovers down. He’s not taking as many chances. He took a couple of tonight I didn’t really like but, look, it’s rare and you have to live with some of it with a guy who sees the floor as well as he does.
“I’ve been really, really happy,” he continued. “He’s getting better organizing our team. That’s really more of a team-wide problem, our offensive organization but I love what Lonzo Ball is doing. He needs to continue to play the way he has in these two exhibition games for us to be as good as we can be.”
Ball’s aggressiveness was never more evident than his mindset in attacking pick and rolls on Friday. Against a Bucks side that plays a drop coverage and encourages mid-range jumpers, Ball obliged by knocking down three of them. Considering he shot just 33% on those types of shots last season and 26% on all mid-range attempts last season, Ball showcased a potential new side of his game this season.
“Milwaukee plays in a deep drop, their guards fight over (the screen) so you always have that mid-range (jumper) and I’ve been working on that this summer,” Ball said. “I thought I’d get to it a couple of times today.
“I felt good. A lot of my shots were open as they were in Miami. I just keep taking them and started making them (tonight).”
Another sign of his confidence level comes from the fact that, as Ball noted, he shot 5-of-15 in the opener on Monday against Miami and 2-of-9 from range. On Friday, though, he looked undeterred as he scored eight points in the first quarter.
“I felt like he’s very comfortable out there,” Zion Williamson said. “Lonzo can knock down shots and keeps pushing the ball for us. When he does that, we really get going. I thought Lonzo played great tonight.”
Ball is entering a contract year with the Pelicans unless the two parties can agree to an extension by Tuesday night’s deadline. The motivation of a big payday naturally lights a fire for any player.
Whatever the reasoning and motivations may be for Ball heading into this season, that he’s shaken off his poor bubble performance with a bounceback preseason only a few months later is a positive sign both personally and for the team as a whole moving into the regular season.
Pelicans voted as best young core in annual NBA general manager survey
Lonzo Ball, Stan Van Gundy say New Orleans Pelicans defense is work in progress
New Orleans Pelicans to debut City jerseys on Christmas against Heat